Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1934)

Neatly folded on the top of the case was a thin scarlet silk kimono embroidered with dragons.
“So,” he murmured. “It is like that. A defiance. Very well. I take it up.”

This is my first Agatha Christie and my introduction to the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. As a novice Christie reader and one who doesn’t read crime fiction all I can say is…the ending! Was it obvious to more seasoned readers? It took me by surprise even after it was revealed the passengers knew each other and the further revelation they were connected due to a celebrated murder case in the States. Such is my inability to ever figure out, “whodunit.”

The story takes place aboard the luxury train Orient Express which is departing Istanbul, destination London. In the first class section we are introduced to an international cast of people whose actions, glances, presence seem suspicious or at least that’s the perspective of M. Poirot, the famed international detective, that oddly from my perspective, a name everyone seems to know. Once the murder is committed he looks at everyone as a subject. Is this a trait of his profession or is it because everyone IS a suspect? Most of the passengers pertinent to the story are stereotypes of culture and country including, a loud wealthy American woman, the prim and proper female missionary, an English governess, a Russian princess and her devoted maid, a suspicious Italian, a count and countess and a private investigator. Among the other passengers is the murdered man’s secretary and translator, and his valet.

When the passengers awake on the first morning of the journey, they find the train is not moving having come to a standstill in the middle of the night due to do a snowstorm. Coincidentally, it is discovered one of the passengers has been murdered, American tycoon Samuel Ratchett. He had come to Poirot the night before asking him to investigate the threatening letters he’d been receiving, but Poirot refused the case. Now, he’s declared himself in charge of Ratchett’s murder investigation. Examining the victim’s body he finds 12 stab wounds and looking through his cabin among other evidence he sees the window is open, a pipe cleaner and a fragment of a handkerchief are on the floor as well as a bit of burned paper with the name ‘Armstrong’ still visible. A detail to come later is the brief sighting of a woman in a scarlet kimono flitting down a corridor that some of the passengers noticed…or did they, though no one saw the face?

As the suspects are interviewed, Poirot weighs and measures their alibis that seem plausible and honest, until he finally pieces together how each is connected to one another and to the murdered man…..

This is basically a police procedural and it was interesting to see the French detective’s investigative skills. But to be honest, I had some trouble keeping the many characters’ accounts straight and was certain this would prevent my understanding the outcome. But the process of Poirot’s deductive methods drew me as did the variety of characters and their stories that kept the narrative moving. I read on anxious to find out the killer. And boy, I did not see that coming!

From the 2017 Kenneth Branagh

Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: 1934
Device: Trade paperback
Pages: 265

Challenge: Classics Club, Back to the Classics, Mount TBR