Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

266 pages
Originally published: 1934
Reprinted by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
New York, NY

Murder on the Orient Express is probably one of the more well known mystery novels by Agatha Christie. My first memory of it is seeing the 1974 movie adaptation advertised on television, though I've never actually watched it. Murder on the Orient Express is the eighth "who-dunit" by Christie that features Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his famous "little gray cells" and it is the third novel in which Captain Hastings does not appear as the narrator. (The other two being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Mystery of the Blue Train.) Like several other novels by Christie, Murder on the Orient Express was published under two titles. The UK version was published as Murder on the Orient Express in early 1934, but the US version, published later that year, was published as Murder in the Calais Coach to avoid confusion with another novel by Graham Green titled Orient Express.

As Murder on the Orient Express begins Poirot is traveling back to England after closing up an important case in Syria. Hoping to travel in the comfort of first class, Poirot is surprised to find the entire first class cabin in the Calais Coach is booked up, something unusual for the time of year. After a little finagling by the train director and a passenger failing to make the train, Poirot gets his sleeping berth and the train starts off. During the trip it comes to Poirot's attention that not only is the train unusually full, but it is filled with a variety of people from different classes and races, likewise unusual. But the most unusual occurrence is the train is stopped by a snow storm one of the passengers is murdered -- stabbed to death twelve times! What unfolds is a very puzzling mystery that only Hercule Poirot may be able to solve... And of course he does.

I found Murder on the Orient Express to be one of the most cleverly written detective novels I've read in a while. I did pick up on several clues as I read, but the solution to the case eluded me to the very end. My one objection was to the ending of the story. I struggled with the way the case was closed having some moral objections, but I can't say anything more without giving away the story. All I can say is, had I been in Poirot's shoes I might have handled the situation differently, but it wouldn't have been easy to do so.

The writing in Murder on the Orient Express is typical Christie style -- easy to read, a page turner with lots of interesting characters and clever dialog, and if the reader follows the plot closely they will experience quite a mental exercise. The one drawback is the story does lack action. Excepting in the first few pages the entire novel takes place on the train. Most of the text consists of dialog and descriptions, which makes the reader realize how ideal Murder on the Orient Express would be/is for a stage play or movie.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent, I would rate Murder on the Orient Express a 3.5 to 4. I really enjoyed the mystery and I think it is one of the better Christie novels I've read as far as the story plot, clues, and how the mystery is answered. I can't say it was my favorite as there have been other stories that I have enjoyed more, but I think Murder on the Orient Express is one of the top Christie mystery novels to be read.

In closing I quote a book review by Isaac Anderson from the March 4, 1934 issue of the New York Times as he sums up my thoughts exactly: "The great Belgian' detective's guesses are more than shrewd; they are positively miraculous. Although both the murder plot and the solution verge upon the impossible, Agatha Christie has contrived to make them appear quite convincing for the time being, and what more than that can a mystery addict desire."

Check back in June for my next Agatha Christie mystery review: Why Didn't They Ask Evans?


Memory said...

I was also rather surprised at how Poirot handled the ending. Still, it was a great book. I agree with you that it's one of her best, even if it can't quite claim the top spot.

Shona said...

This was my first Agatha Christie and I liked it so much.Still don't want to part with the copy I had bought 12yrs ago.Made me curoius enough to read many Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries.