Thursday, June 26, 2014

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

If you've never read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, you're in for a treat. This is one of the Golden Age mysteries with a most unusual ending. Christie violated the tenets of the genre by surprising the reader with quite a twist. If you've read the book or seen any version of the movie, it's still a treat to follow along with the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Poirot has just wrapped up a case when he's called from Istanbul to London. M. Bouc, a director of the train line, offers his friend a first class compartment on the Orient Express, knowing it is seldom full in the winter. To his surprise, all the first class compartments are full, but M. Bouc insists Poirot be given a compartment to share until a first class compartment opens. And, it's M. Bouc who points out the romance of the train and its passengers. "All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days, these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days, they part, they go their several ways, never, perhaps, to see each other again."

On the train, Poirot observes his fellow passengers, including a man, an American named Ratchett, who tries to hire Poirot to protect him. Poirot turns him down, telling him he doesn't like his face. And, evidently someone else doesn't like Ratchett. Along with other disturbances during the night, Poirot hears a cry from Ratchett's compartment. All the passengers awake in the morning to learn that the train is stuck on the tracks, due to snow. But, their fellow passenger, Ratchett, doesn't awake. Instead, he's found dead in his locked compartment, stabbed a dozen times.

M. Bouc quickly enlists the services of Hercule Poirot to solve the crime since the train is stuck in Yugoslavia. Poirot sees only two solutions. Either the criminal left the train in the middle of the night, or he is still on the train, stuck with all the other passengers. It's Hercule Poirot's job to find the truth.

Because I'm leading the book discussion of Murder on the Orient Express in a couple weeks, I read the book, and watched two versions of the movie. I have additional reading to do about Agatha Christie herself. I do know, though, that I can't reveal more about the book without spoiling the ending. Looking at the characters now, they seem to be stereotypes representing different classes and nationalities. But, the story was written in 1934. According to her grandson, Christie's books were written as entertainment. Murder on the Orient Express succeeds as a brilliant solution to a fascinating crime. And, Christie based part of her story on the headlines of an American crime.  Again, I won't spoil the story.

What I can say is that the 1974 film starring Albert Finney is brilliant, and Christie herself liked it. It's pure entertainment with a stellar cast including Ingrid Bergman, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, and Michael York. It's faithful to the book, with a few name changes, and an unusual final scene. I was disappointed in the 2010 film starring David Suchet. It lacked the entertainment element, and went with strong religious elements that were definitely not part of Agatha Christie's story. Read the book. Murder on the Orient Express is a true classic of the mystery genre. Watch the 1974 movie, and the extra features afterward. Ignore the 2010 Masterpiece Mystery with David Suchet

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 1934. (This edition - HarperCollins, 2011. paperback)

FTC Full disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.


Beth Hoffman said...

One of my favorite books! One of these days I'll have to read it again. I loved the 1974 film adaptation, but I never saw the one released in 2010.

Lesa said...

You didn't miss anything, Beth, by not seeing the 2010 one. They added religious elements that were not in the book, and were out of place.

Liz said...

A wonderful book.

Sorry to hear about 2010 film as Suchet definitely my favorite Poirot.

Lesa said...

Interesting enough, Liz, Christie actually describes Poirot as a small, lean man, and neither Finney nor Suchet portrayed him that way. I didn't mind Suchet. I didn't like the use of the stoning and the Catholicism in the film.

Joe Barone said...

I still remember the first time I read this book. The same is true for a couple other of Agatha Christie's groundbreaking books. I'm not a great fan of most Christie books (though, for some reason, I read most of them along the way). But she truly did write several "great," "classic," or "whatever-term-you-want-to-use" books.