Monday, July 14, 2014

Agatha Christie Potpourri

No spoilers! I'm looking for some suggestions for tonight, but don't spoil the ending if someone hasn't read  Murder on the Orient Express.

I'm leading a book discussion about Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express tonight. It's not really an easy discussion to prepare to do. What questions should I lead with? This is a great group, and I don't really need to have a lot of questions. And, everyone will have read the book, so we can discuss the end. I did do some research, though. I watched the 1974 version of the movie (fun entertainment with a terrific cast!), and the David Suchet PBS version (religion? Where did that come from?), but we'll probably discuss the book much more than the movie.

I did some research, as I said. I used a number of older titles I found at the library. I'd still love to see some of the questions you would want to discuss. The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie, edited by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister helped me with one of them. In this book, Jerry Keucher's essay, "Hercule Poirot: The Man and the Myth", says, "The deepest part of his character can be expressed in the simplest words: Hercule Poirot did not approve of urder; those who perpetrated murder had to be brought to justice....He thought first of justice and was suspicious of mercy-misplaced mercy, that is....But his passion for truth and knowledge was such that blind justice could have found no better seeing-eye dog than Hercule Poirot." Here's my question. Was justice served in Murder on the Orient Express?

Daw B. Sova gives us Agatha Christie A to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life & Writings. The article that summarizes Murder on the Orient Express says that the novel is based upon actual events that occurred in 1929 and 1932. I'm sure most of you know that one of the events was the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, when Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh paid a ransom of $50,000, but the baby was found murdered. In fact, Christie uses the actual suicide of a servant as one of the motives in the mystery. The other incident that influenced the plot was a 1929 trip when the Orient Express train crossed the Turkish border and was snowbound for six days.

Vanessa Wagstaff and Stephen Poole are the authors of Agatha Christie: A Reader's Companion.
Each novel is summarized, with background, the storyline, reviews, photos of first editions, and information about spin-offs. Christie thought the 1974 film was excellent, but criticized "the paucity of Finney's moustache". "Poirot eventually reaches two possible solutions which he reports to his friend M. Bouc, the director of the railway company, leaving his friend to decide which he prefers. The adoption of either solution would allow the person or persons responsible to go free." Is Poirot an accomplice to murder? Why do you think he offered two solutions?

I also used Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime, edited by H.R.F. Keating. That book, published in 1977, included articles by a number of well-known writers from the '70s; Celia Fremlin, Michael Gilbert, Dorothy B. Hughes, Emma Lathen, Julian Symons. All of the black-and-white photos in this book are striking. The most valuable piece, though, was Keating's portrait of Poirot.

This book discussion group is terrific. The discussion leader varies month-to-month, but I've always been impressed by the preparation that goes into the discussions. Now, it's my turn. I have a cast of characters, a few questions, a simple plot summary. Tell me, but don't give away the ending, what would you ask?


Cathy Ace said...

I think that one of the most interesting aspects of this book is its structure. The structure allows the story to work. By breaking down the "Evidence" section of the book into individual interviews, Christie allows for a multi-faceted telling of the events in question. If all the people on the train had been questioned together, the book wouldn't have worked. How about a discussion of the way she gives us very detailed pieces of a jigsaw, and the chance to put it all together, by the use of the structure (which is an unusual one for her)?

Lesa said...

You're right, Cathy. That is an unusual structure for her. We didn't end up discussing this, but it was a very lively discussion, and a lot of fun. Thanks for the suggestion!

Cathy Ace said...

Glad it was fun. I always feel there's something to learn when discussing "the classics"!

Lesa said...

Just a terrific group discussion, Cathy.