Murder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie
There are few authors who have been elevated to the level of “master” of their craft. A select few have been able to write novels and short stories that are famously timeless, reaching new readers across decades and generations apart. Agatha Christie is one of those writers, and a name that nearly everyone has heard of. With a portfolio boasting over 65 individual novels and more than 13 short story collections, Christie has been named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. Having sold nearly 2 billion copies of her published work has put Christie in the upper echelon of manuscripts that include the works of Shakespeare and the Holy Bible. With clever mysteries and memorable detectives set upon solving them, Agatha Christie has been capturing the attention of readers for nearly 100 years.
Murder on the Orient Express, one of Christie’s most famous novels, is headed up by the enigmatic and somewhat peculiar detective Hercule Poirot. Armed with a beguiling and sharp mind, a delicate Belgian accent, and one robust mustache, Poirot has set upon a series of trains in an attempt to get away for some rest and relaxation. But as fate would have it, he is intercepted and urged to make his way on to London where an urgent matter awaits his attention. When his endeavor to board a first-class carriage on the Orient Express proves unattainable, Poirot must rely on old friend (and fortuitously for him, the director of the train line) M. Bouc to assist him in garnering comfortable passage on the train.
Upon boarding, Poirot is introduced to several strange and entertaining characters. One, Mr. Ratchett, is an older American with a sinister look about him who travels with a valet and personal language translator. The air around Ratchett is wrought with malevolence and aggression, and it comes as little surprise to readers that the murder mystery revolves around this particular man’s death.
While investigating the dead man’s carriage, Poirot comes across a few key and intriguing pieces of evidence. A handkerchief. A pipe cleaner. And a very curious note that was apparently thrown into the fire as the reader tried to cover the contents of it up. Poirot can still make out the words “Daisy Armstrong” written upon it.
Among those secretive and funny characters on board is a murderer. And Poirot takes it upon himself to try and find out which one of the train’s passengers it is. It could be . . .
Dr. Constantine, the resident medical professional onboard the train. He surely couldn’t be involved, as his manner of station is saving, not killing – right?
Mary Debenham, one cool-calm-collected creature whose rigid demeanor seems almost cut from glass. Poirot is certain that Ms. Debenham knows more than she lets on, especially as he caught her speaking rather intimately with someone she later claimed to not know at all – the handsome . . .
. . . Colonel Artbuthnot, who is a bit standoffish but polite. He is decidedly English, and makes a point to let everyone know.
Also in play are:
Mrs. Hubbard, an older woman whose penchant is fishing for compliments as she struts about the Orient Express in a cloud of expensive perfume. Her compartment was next to the victims, and she is certain that someone broke into her room the night of the murder.
Princess Dragomiroff, an unattractive elderly woman who is intent upon putting Poiroit off of her bejeweled trail.
Hector McQueen, the personal secretary of the departed Ratchett. He is very confused as to what he should do now that his employer is . . . gone – but he appears to be trying to make the investigation move as seamlessly as possible.
The young and beautiful Countess Andrenyi, who is most assuredly hiding something from Poirot, if only he could get close enough to her to reveal it. But unfortunately for the seasoned detective, the Countess is protected both by her diplomatic status and her husband . . .
. . . Count Andrenyi, an aggressive and protective man who is in possession of a very curious passport.
Cyrus Hardman, a man who is not at all as he seems.
Antonio Foscanelli, the man that M. Bouc is sure killed Ratchett, because don’t all Italians murder – as per their mafioso sterotype?
Gretta Ohlsson, a delicate Swede who can’t stop crying.
Hildegarde Schmidt, the slow-minded companion of Princess Dragomiroff. The woman will stop at nothing to safeguard her mistress while carrying out her bidding.
and Edward Henry Masterman, Ratchett’s former valet and a very stoic man who wasn’t sorry to see his master depart the world – not even in the fashion by which it was designed.
All of the men and women on the train will be individually interviewed as Poirot works to put his estimations together and fill in the missing puzzle pieces. What are these people hiding? Who killed Ratchett, and why? The blows struck upon the man by a knife are both left-handed and right-handed. Both strong and weak. Who drugged the wretched man before bringing about his death? Who . . . or whom?
The beauty of this novel is its utter simplicity. Agatha Christie sets up a very simple murder, carries out very simple interviews via Poirot (with hilarious little tidbits of humor thrown in for good measure), and draws out the mystery until the very end – where all is revealed in an elaborate fashion with a twist that is brilliant. As a lot of devout readers of Christie’s work believe Murder on the Orient Express falls into a mediocre category amongst other works such as Death on the Nile or And Then There Were None, I personally give Orient Express a 5 out of 5 star rating. I have never found it fair to compare one book by an author to another, and instead try to base my reviews of any book by only looking at the particular novel as a single entity, whether it is part of a series or not.
I loved the mystery. I loved the humor. I loved the simplistic nature of Orient Express. And for that, I recommend it highly. Readers who enjoy Murder on the Orient Express would be well to begin at the beginning, as it were, with the debut of Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.