Week 6: Murder on the Orient Express



February is the month for LOVE. Or… the month for eating as much chocolate as you want without feeling like you need justification – it’s just February, and in February you eat chocolate. A lot of chocolate.

February is definitely a month ruled by the heart. You cannot go anywhere without seeing hearts – pink, red, white, chocolate or conversation. So naturally, I chose a book that captures all the warm and fuzzy feels of the heart — a murder mystery.

Agatha Christie is rightfully recognized as the “Queen of Mystery” – in her lifetime she wrote eighty novels, nineteen plays and created two of the most memorable and recognizable detectives of all time in the figures of Miss. Marple – the spinster with a genius knowledge of human nature; and Monsieur Hercule Poirot – the funny little Belgian with “the egg shaped head.”

In her most famous mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express Hercule Poirot is the detective tasked in solving a brutal murder of a wealthy American businessman who has been stabbed multiple times.

There are no lack of suspects since the train on which Poirot is traveling is fully booked with an array of mysterious characters, however none with motives, or any connection to the victim besides being on the same train at the same time.

“The murderer is with us – on the train now…”

Poirot is at his finest here – using his “little grey cells” to interview suspects, gather clues and solve the murder before the train reaches its destination.

The victim is  truly unlikable with his awful suits, nasally voice and a belief that money can buy or pay off anyone. In the beginning he actually tries to hire Poirot, offering him a job to protect him from “an enemy.” Poirot declines with the direct and honest line, “If you will forgive me for being personal – I do not like your face…”

By Chapter 5 the victim’s fear is realized as he is found dead in his compartment car – stabbed brutally to death. No spoilers for you readers there since the title does have the word ‘Murder’ prominently displayed on the front cover.

Poirot is faced with an array of suspects that range from different countries, social classes and even minor royalty. 13 of them to be exact. Is the murderer the young American MacQueen who is strong and could have easily stabbed the victim without breaking a sweat? Or is the murderer the Russian Princess Dragomiroff who is as “ugly as sin” but certainly capable of wielding a blade?

Christie is at her finest here as well, describing the characters with vivid detail and providing the reader with a puzzle that seems to have missing pieces. The reader has to depend on Poirot who meticulously observes and organizes important evidence while disregarding the red herrings and suspect oddities along the way.

“The whole thing is a fantasy!”

Murder on the Orient Express is a complex mystery laden with conflicting evidence and secret identities. The final chapter pulls everything together as Poirot stands before the assembled suspects cool as a cucumber recounting step by step how he solved the murder.

The first time I read this particular Christie mystery I was awestruck. I am not a mystery rookie – I pride myself on figuring out the crime by mid-novel – finding the clues and assembling them together in my head as the puzzle comes together and points to the (sometimes rather obvious) murderer. Not with this one. The twist at the end was something I hadn’t seen coming.

Much to my chagrin the ending of Murder on the Orient Express has become a well known fact – an ending so unique it has seeped into popular culture even making it’s way into a Doctor Who episode.

If you are a newbie to the genre of “fireside mysteries;” I would recommend this book to read first, before someone or something – such as a TV show  – spoils the ending. Because Agatha Christie does something magically impossible with her mysteries – she never tells until the end.

This book has to be reread in order to figure out how all the pieces come together so smoothly.