Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
“‘As you yourself have said, what other explanation can there be?’ Poirot stared straight ahead of him. ‘That is what I ask myself,’ he said. ‘That is what I never cease to ask myself.’”
Murder on the Orient Express was my first Agatha Christie novel. I have had it on hold at the library for months in anticipation of the new movie (mainly for Leslie Odom, Jr.). I am not a huge mystery reader, but definitely enjoy the ones I have read. So I thought I would give the "mystery queen" a try. Murder on the Orient Express is about a murder that occurs on the train headed from Turkey to France that renowned Detective Hercule Poirot happens to be on. It is up to Poirot to figure out who committed the crime before the snow lets up and the train moves.
Poirot is traveling in Syria before a telegram reaches him and urges him to return to London immediately. He books a ticket on the Orient Express, from Stamboul to Calais. In his coach, there are 14 passengers including him; a few are Americans, one is a Russian Princess, and there are several Europeans of all classes. At this time of year, there are hardly any passengers on this route, so Poirot, as well as his friend Mr. Bouc, the director of the train company, were quite surprised by the full coach. On the second night of the trip, an American man, Ratchett, was found in his cabin murdered, stabbed 12 times. And as the train had run into a snowstorm and was delayed until the snow cleared or the train company could dig them out, Bouc employs Poirot to help figure out who did it. It quickly becomes clear that the murderer is still on the train.
At the center of the murder, we discover that Ratchett was actually a man named Cassetti, who had kidnapped and killed a young American girl, Daisy Armstrong, several years prior. That case not only shook America, but Europe as well. The girl’s parents could not handle the tragedy and both subsequently died from the shock (the mother died in premature birth with a stillborn baby and the father shot himself). Cassetti was acquitted on some technicality and fled the country, much to everyone's horror.
Poirot, along with Bouc and Dr. Constantine, interviews each passenger to figure out what happened. Through the interviews, only a handful of the passengers claim knowledge of the Armstrong case. But as Poirot is want to do, he sees the lies in each person’s story. Each passenger has an interesting, and most likely fabricated, story. My two favorite passengers (or suspects) were Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham. They both seemed to cover up their relationship and were very cold about the whole crime. Their two characters were by far the most interesting, and right off the bat, it seemed they were hiding something.
As for the ending and who actually murdered Ratchett, I did not see that one coming. The whole book I kept trying to figure it out, and no one person stood out. But that is the beauty of Agatha Christie’s writing and storytelling. It is why she was such a prolific writer and why so many of her novels have been adapted for movies and television. I really enjoyed reading Murder on the Orient Express; it made for an enjoyable winter weekend read. I just didn’t love it, so I only give it 3.5 stars. But I do look forward to reading more Christie.
Let me know what my next Agatha Christie novel should be.