Murder on the Orient Express
© 1934 Agatha Christie
A dark and snowy night; the Orient Express, rolling from Istanbul to Paris, slows to a stop in the wilderness, trapped by the growing piles of snow as its passengers sleep. But the slumber of the travelers is disturbed by a sudden cry, the sighting of a figure in a red kimono, and — the discovery of a dead passenger, stabbed in his sleep. Murder has been committed — murder most foul!
..or not. Quickly enough, an officer of the train line enlists his friend, Hercule Poirot, to sort out whodunit, and in the course of their investigation they realize the dead man was a notorious child-killer from America. If anyone deserved to run into a knife several times, it was this fellow. Still, train lines can’t have passengers being stabbed willy-nilly; the culprit must be found out. So, with the train still stranded in the wilderness, and no escape available for any suspects, the passengers are summoned to the dining coach one by one and interviewed by the famed detective. The story grows ever more complex; the evidence is contradictory, and everyone seems to have an alibi. The deceased didn’t encounter some malicious vanishing wizard’s casting of sectum sempra — someone on board must have plotted and committed the deed.
Murder on the Orient Express is my second Christie novel, the first being And Then There Were None, read during the Clinton years. Like that one, the ending here is a terrific twist. Murder is a story of conversation and deduction, a classic locked-room mystery in which the room is a train cabin. Although the alias of the murdered man leads Poirot to suspect the stabbing had something to do with his notorious villainy in America, the presence of suspects with links to the devastated family confirms it. Only hitch: virtually everyone on the train proves to have some connection to that family. Unlike the train itself, Poirot’s investigation flies along, with one confusing clue after another baffling the train officials and physician, but giving Poirot some insight into what they are being led to believe happened. The ultimate resolution is a twist, as mentioned, but not improbable. It is, after all the other alternatives were exhausted, the only possible solution.
Christie definitely lives up to her reputation, and I’ll warrant Poirot will appear here again..