CBR9 #14: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

The book group that I’m in at work picks books that either have already been made into a movie or soon will be made into a movie.  It’s made for an interesting mix.  And like most book clubs, it also means there are titles you’d never pick up on your own.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of these.  Mysteries and thrillers are not my genre.  I’m not interested in looking for clues or remembering what someone said that one time that contradicts what they said now.  Or, even worse, not having the prior knowledge to know that a thing isn’t true because someone in Job X would not know about Thing Y.  As a kid, I’d skip through Encyclopedia Brown to find the answer and was always irritated at how random it was.  How the hell does anyone pick up on these things?  I can’t solve The Mystery of Where the Fuck Are My Keys and I’m supposed to believe that some kid saw a thermos and knew there was a cold ping pong ball?  Perhaps I’m overreacting in an effort to hide the fact that MY KEYS WERE JUST THERE WHAT THE HELL?

Sherlock is the exception to the rule, because… well…


The ridiculousness is built in to the character and I’m willing to give in to the magic of it all.  Plus they’re pretty.

I had very little prior knowledge of Hercule Poirot.  I knew there was a show on PBS or the BBC and he was a detective, so he wasn’t for me.  I hadn’t read anything by Agatha Christie, although I did see the play for And then There Were None.  (Had no clue who did it.)  I had a vague understanding that she either invented the crime novel or at least made huge contributions and set the standard for everything that came after.  Still… not my thing.

Let’s get to the murder…

Through a series of unexpected events, Poirot finds himself on the Orient Express and a murder just happens to be committed that he can solve.  ‘Sup, Jessica Fletcher?Jessica Fletcher

A passenger has been stabbed to death and since the train is stuck in the snow, the murderer must still be on board.  His friend M. Bouc is the director of the train and is delighted to know his friend will take care of everything before the cops show up and his reputation is tainted.

I liked the stationary setting.  Most of the interviews took place in the dining car, so there was a sense of tension and confinement, and yet Poirot could take his time because no one could leave and no one new could show up to meddle.

He interviews the twelve passengers, the train conductor and other employees.  There is also, conveniently, a doctor on board who notes the strange pattern of the stabs.  The murderer appears to have used both the right and left hand.  Some strikes were deep and the cause of death.  Others appeared to be delivered with such weakness that the body was barely punctured.  Some might have happened after the man was dead.  It doesn’t make sense.  Except of course it does!  The doctor and M. Bouc are convinced there was more than one person.  Or that maybe there was one person but he switched hands to confuse the police.  Or she.  Maybe a woman.  That Italian guy looks sketchy.

The reveal at the end is SO GOOD.  I obviously don’t know if Christie or Poirot always have this type of ending, but it was satisfying and very clever.

One huge drawback to the book is that there is a lot of French throughout and as someone who does not speak French, it was both irritating and frustrating not knowing if something was a sentence, a clue, a throwaway or what.

It also has suuuuuuuuuuper racist and sexist parts, but I won’t hold 1930’s Christie responsible.

We watched the 1974 movie after our discussion, and it made me like the book more.  I’ll check out the new version once it’s out on DVD.

I can see why people like Christie’s writing and I absolutely understand her importance to the genre.  It’s still not for me, but if there were some weird book drought situation where the only thing I could find was her, I’d read on and totally be OK.

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