Murder on the Orient Express is one of the unequivocal staples of the mystery genre.
Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Rating (of 5): ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Year published: 1933
First sentence: It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of the many Christie novels that follows the adventures of private detective Hercule Poirot. The mystery begins when Poirot boards a train to Istanbul and observes a seemingly insignificant interaction between two passengers who later ride the Orient Express. Although the pair arouses his suspicions, their actions have no significance at that point. After his arrival in Istanbul, Poirot receives an urgent telegram prompting his to return to London immediately. On his return trip, he takes the Orient Express.
Not long into the journey, the train is stopped by a snowdrift. The following morning, a dead body is found on the train. The dead body is that of a man traveling as Mr. Ratchett, but in fact Ratchett is a criminal traveling under an alias. In the United States, Ratchett — whose real name is Cassetti — kidnapped and murdered a three-year-old girl. Using his wealth, Ratchett rigged the trial and was set free. As Poirot sets out to find who killed, it soon becomes apparent that almost no one on the train is who or what they seem.
The more I think about this book, the more impressed I am by it. I was slow to like it because the beginning seemed a little slow to me. Also, the reader is introduced to a number of characters in a very short time so it initially somewhat difficult to keep them separated. I liked the ending and its slight twist. After finishing the book, though, I became increasingly impressed with the ending as I thought about how obvious it should have been yet how long it took me to anticipate it.
Ultimately, one theme of the book is the ways in which the law fails. I, predictably, like that theme. It comes up in some references to prohibition, in the fact that Cassetti was not punished by the law, the fact that he seems to have been punished by someone else, and even in the fact that it is ultimately not the law but a private investigator who uncovers the truth. In fact, it’s noteworthy that there’s no officer of the law at all involved in the investigation. That makes sense considering that the whole thing happens on a snowbound train, but still, the overall absence and failures of the law are noteworthy.
As a whole, it was a nice and pleasant read. It was an easy read, and did not require the sort of treacherous slogging that I think a couple books on my Classics Club list will. I liked it and, while I’m not at the point where I’m going to go run out and buy a ton of Christie, I’m sure that the next time that I’m at a book sale, if I see some Christie on the shelf, I’ll pick it up.