I’d like to give you a little spoiler warning. I tend to think that anything mentioned when talking about a mystery novel is sort of a spoiler, but I haven’t said anything in this review that cannot be found in the blurb, which does say who is murdered.
Murder on the Orient Express was chosen as my first classic of the year by Laura from The Girl and Her Books as part of a fun new feature that we’ll be announcing soon. It was my third Agatha Christie novel, having read Death on the Nile last year and And Then There Were None the year before. (I’m thinking that reading at least one Agatha Christie per year should become a new tradition!). Murder on the Orient Express is the tenth book in the series featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It was first published in the USA as Murder on the Calais Coach, which was news to me as I knew it to be one of her most well-known and much-loved novels.
As soon as Hercule Poirot checks into the Tokatlian Hotel in Istanbul, he receives a telegram instructing him to cancel his arrangements and return to London, so he boards the Orient Express, heading for Paris. Poirot is soon approached by Samuel Ratchett, an American million who fears for his life. Ratchett attempts to hire Poirot as his personal detective, but he refuses and tells Ratchett: ‘I do not like your face’. In the morning, Ratchett is found dead, stabbed multiple times. The Orient Express is at a standstill due to a severe overnight snowstorm and it is not possible that the murderer could have left the train, so they must still be among them. But twelve of the passengers are found out to be enemies of Samuel Ratchett – so who could it be?
Murder on the Orient Express is, thankfully, another enjoyable ‘whodunnit’ from Agatha Christie. While reading most books, you never really know when you’re going to find out the truth, but Agatha Christie is always straight with the reader. Murder on the Orient Express is split into three parts: The Facts, The Evidence and Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks (i.e. The Solution). And each piece of evidence is laid out for us clearly: The Evidence of the Secretary, The Evidence of the Valet, The Evidence of the American Lady, etc. I loved that the novel was set out in this way; I loved knowing in advance what I was going to get from each chapter, but that doesn’t make it any easier to guess who the murderer is.
Although we’re always reminded that a horrific murder has occurred on board the train, Agatha Christie does not let this deter her from using black comedy and I loved her characters’ use of brutal honesty: ‘At the small table, sitting very upright, was one of the ugliest old ladies he had ever seen. It was an ugliness of distinction – it fascinated rather than repelled’. It’s so unexpected that it should be admired, really. It reminded me that Agatha Christie’s novels are not just a lighter version of a crime investigation show – they’re meant to be fun and enjoyable, without the violence and gore. We have a murder to solve! We might as well have a snow day, too. It’s still amusing to me that the characters are often far too unaffected by murders than they should be, but her novels are not about people as such – they’re just tools to help us solve a crime. We must look at the crime rationally, sifting through the evidence logically, and then ‘thinking it through’. Agatha Christie, as it’s been pointed out many times, is also sometimes old-fashioned to the point of being offensive. Are you Italian? Well, then you must be suspicious. Are you a woman? Well, you’re likely too weak to have committed this murder. “Poor creature, she’s a Swede.” But it is what it is and I still think it’s okay to enjoy her novels.
Unfortunately Murder on the Orient Express does not take the place as my favourite Agatha Christie novel – And Then There Were None still wins that award – but it still kept me guessing until the very end, curled up the comfort knowing that I would find out the truth soon, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. I have noticed that I do not yet own a Miss Marple novel, so I shall have to buy either The Murder at the Vicarage or The Body in the Library next… !
‘The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.’
Published: 1st January 1934
Publisher: Collins Crime Club, but edition pictured published 2007 by HarperCollins