Kemper's Reviews > Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
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bookshelves: 2018, genre-classics, crime-mystery, detectives, whodunit

All aboard the murder train!

A long time ago when I was in high school and dinosaurs still roamed the earth I read a whole bunch of Agatha Christie novels. The weird thing is that I was never that big of a fan of hers. I was getting into mystery novels, she’s one of the best known writer in the genre, and the local library had a whole bunch of her stuff. At some point I realized that I prefer my murders to be a bit less civilized, and I moved onto other styles of the genre without giving much thought to ole Agatha after that. However, I recently watched the latest film adaptation done by Kenneth Branagh and even though it’s just OK that gave me the urge to check this out again. And it reminded me that classics are very often classics for a reason.

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on-board the Orient Express along with an assortment of travelers and their servants. An American named Ratchett is stabbed to death in his compartment just as the train is stopped by snow. Circumstances make it seem that whoever killed Ratchett is probably still among the people in the first class car that night. As Poirot sorts through the evidence and questions suspects he finds contradictions that make solving the murder a very complex task.

One of my reasons I stopped reading Christie was the impression that she didn’t play fair in her whodunits. (And since I’m going off very old memories I could certainly be wrong about that.) By that I mean that it seemed like the solution depended on some kind of in-story background information that a reader couldn’t possible know. There’s a touch of that here with a big piece of the plot involving a link to a famous fictional crime. (Although it’s obviously inspired by a famous real one.)

Yet, that’s set up as background info that’s pretty much given to us as soon as it’s revealed so it doesn’t feel like Christie was just cheating by springing the unknown on a reader as a way to hide the killer. In fact, since the murder took place in a confined space where people were coming and going that everything you need to know is given to us as Poirot builds a timeline and uses a diagram to place the location of people in the train car at various times. One of the great things about this book is the way that Christie uses the logistics of this to actually give you all the clues while also obscuring the solution in the details.

I’d also had the idea that her writing was very dry and boring. There’s actually a lot of touches of humor that I missed as a young idiot. Even though there’s a lot of dated things in terms of race, sex, and class it also felt like she was often making some sly commentary on attitudes of her time. For example, the guy working for the railroad is positive that an Italian passenger must have killed Ratchett since it was done with a knife, and while Poirot often seems to agree with him that circumstances make him a good suspect you also note that he begins outright mocking the guy for sticking with this theory as things evolve.

I also very much liked the ending which again goes against my idea that these were very proper books that believe in strict law and order when the resolution here is a lot more interesting and complex.

I may have to try some more of these books to see exactly what else I was wrong about.
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Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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David Sarkies Great review. I'm not a big fan of who dunnit but I did appreciate Christie's works.


Kimber I also have had the feeling that Christie doesn't always play fair.


Virginia I remember reading a bunch of these from the local library as a kid, too. A few years ago, I picked up a bunch of modern British edition paperbacks at a book sale for beach reads and was surprised at how little I remembered. I’ve enjoyed them the second-go-round as well.


Kemper David wrote: "Great review. I'm not a big fan of who dunnit but I did appreciate Christie's works."

Thanks!


Kemper Kimber wrote: "I also have had the feeling that Christie doesn't always play fair."

Yeah, I'm curious to check out some more and see if that holds up to my memory of it.


Kemper Virginia wrote: "I remember reading a bunch of these from the local library as a kid, too. A few years ago, I picked up a bunch of modern British edition paperbacks at a book sale for beach reads and was surprised ..."

I don't remember much of anything either so they'd be new to me.


message 7: by Chuck (new)

Chuck White Nice review, Kemper. I have to admit that I've just recently read my first-ever Agatha Christie novel, Cards on the Table (Hercule Poroit #15) and really enjoyed it. I'm definitely going to check out some more!


Duffy Pratt She cheats big time in And Then There Were None. In the opening pages she lets us in on the internal thoughts of several of the main characters, including the murderer. The murderer says things in his internal monologue that are entirely inconsistent with being the murderer.


Kemper Duffy wrote: "She cheats big time in And Then There Were None. In the opening pages she lets us in on the internal thoughts of several of the main characters, including the murderer. The murderer says things in ..."

Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I vaguely remembered and worry about.


Brandon Kemper wrote: "Kimber wrote: "I also have had the feeling that Christie doesn't always play fair."

Yeah, I'm curious to check out some more and see if that holds up to my memory of it."


I've read a few Christie novels (two, I think.. so it counts as "a few") and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a pretty good whodunnit.


message 11: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil Roger Ackroyd’s a cracker. Christie was nothing particularly special as a prose writer, but her genius for plotting was almost unparalleled.


message 12: by Kirk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk I read this in high school too (along with A Murder is Announced, which I now can't remember a single thing about). Am I right in remembering Poirot saying "I won't take your case because I don't like your face"? Or am I confusing that with the '70s movie with Albert Finney?


Kemper Kirk wrote: "I read this in high school too (along with A Murder is Announced, which I now can't remember a single thing about). Am I right in remembering Poirot saying "I won't take your case because I don't l..."

I think it's in the book. Kenneth Branagh also says it in the new movie, I think.


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