"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just before midnight, the Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a heavy snow drift and by morning one of its passengers is found brutally stabbed to death in their cabin. Untrodden snow outside the carriage indicates that the murderer is on board the train, and it is up to famous detective Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery before the killer decides to strike again...

This mystery is very cleverly written and so meticulously planned that it is surprising that Agatha Christie herself was not a criminal mastermind. For example some of the questions Poirot asks the passengers in the earlier stages of the investigation which seem to be completely innocuous in fact turn out to be incredibly revealing inquiries, and it is little details like this that cause me to marvel at Christie’s imagination and make this novel so brilliantly executed.

This is an enjoyable detective novel which will keep you constantly guessing, although I did have a few small gripes. Firstly, the main bulk of the novel consists of a string of interrogations, which although are very important to the plot, didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat in the way that And Then There Were None did, which was much more action packed.  Secondly, arriving at a conclusion to the case seemed to rely a great deal on Poirot ‘guessing’ correctly, which for me doesn’t completely sit right in a detective novel:
If you confront anyone who has lied with the truth, he will usually admit it - often out of sheer surprise. It is only necessary to guess right to produce your effect.”
‘Murder on the Orient Express was my first encounter with the detective Hercule Poirot, and I didn’t find him very likeable, although some things he says are quite humourous, for example:
‘“If you will forgive me for being personal - I do not like your face, M. Ratchett,’ he said.”
Poirot is investigating the murder along with two others and he keeps them in the dark about his ideas on the case throughout, concealing information he has discovered about passengers until late on in the case. It is flourishes like this that reveal Poirot is all too aware of his own cleverness, making for quite an arrogant character.

The fact that there are 12 murder suspects means that I sometimes got confused as to who was talking or being discussed, especially since they are not always referred to by name but by a moniker, for example ‘the Englishman’ or ‘the Italian’. The international cast of suspects also allows a certain degree of racism which I suppose is reflective of the time when the story was published (1934), and may offend some readers, with the Italian passenger being high up on the suspect list due to his heritage alone, and the Italians as a people are described as “nasty, murdering Italians” by one of the characters.

This probably seems like a very negative review, but the positives certainly outweigh my minor quibbles and Murder on the Orient Express is an excellent mystery novel; it is well thought out, written beautifully, intriguing and with Poirot’s dry wit and pompous attitude is also highly entertaining. Having said this, it is weaker than the superior And Then There Were None, with a less than satisfying conclusion and lacking the pace which made the latter such an exciting page turner.

Rating: 8/10

My other Agatha Christie reviews:

And Then There Were None

1 comment:

  1. Not much words to describe the sheer brilliance of Christie. Not to mention her creation "Poirot" ! Of all the "Poirot" editions this is one which kept me away from my 'general' studies,character presentation,plot sequence,choice of words,superiority of the protagonist,all these nano marvels add to the supremacy and universality of this novel,and this happens to be one of her best ! And do not forget to brush up on your French,you will be needing it,piecemeal. Bonne lecture !