Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I must admit that I had never read Agatha Christie until our book club selected this book.  The back cover informed me that she is the world’s best-selling author of all time, outside of The Bible and Shakespeare, and I can see why.  I knew nothing of the story, other than what the title implies, and I was excited that this would be my first introduction to one of the Mystery genre’s greatest heroes, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot is an older, sophisticated Belgian gentleman who uses his “little gray cells” to solve crimes.  He is known for being polite, fastidious, and for his small waxed mustaches.

Although this isn’t the first novel in the Poirot series (that would be The Mysterious Affair at Styles), it is certainly one of the most popular novels Christie ever wrote.  Probably assisting the book’s popularity is the star studded movie version from 1974, which starred Albert Finney as Poirot, won Ingrid Bergman and Oscar and was – at the time – the biggest grossing British movie ever made.  The story begins with Poirot having solved a case in the Middle East and taking the train back to Europe.  He has some trouble getting booked on the famous train because for the first class coach is completely full in the middle of winter – a very odd occurrence – but, eventually a spot is found with the help of his friend and fellow Belgian Monsieur Bouc, the director of the line. To impress his friend, M. Bouc points out to Poirot how  his train is filled with such a wide variety of people from all classes and different nationalities.  One of the passengers, Mr. Ratchett, approaches Poirot and asks to hire him to help protect his life as believes that an attempt will be made on his life and Poirot replies that he only takes cases which interest him.  That night, around the same time that the train is brought to a stop due to very heavy snow in the Balkans, Mr. Ratchett’s fears are confirmed and he is found dead the next morning.  Monsieur Poirot at first does not want to take this case either, but reluctantly agrees at the pleading of his friend M. Bouc.  Poirot must not only solve the mystery of who killed him, but how and why.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the methodical and linear way that Poirot collects and examines the evidence.  He begins by conferring with M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine and reviewing what facts they know and, just as important, what they don’t know.  The have a map of the train compartments marked with who is staying in each compartment, and begin interviewing the passengers / suspects one by one.  Piece by piece the evidence is gathered, some of which seems to contradict other pieces.  After the passengers are interviewed, Poirot reviews the physical evidence.  He again confers with his friend M. Bouc and the doctor, again reviews what they still don’t know, and which pieces of evidence don’t fit with the others.  Then he begins to think and put his little grey cells to work to once more solve the insoluble.  Of course I won’t tell you who did it, so that you can enjoy that for yourself.  There are clues along the way, and several more experienced Mystery readers in our book club did figure out the ending, but I enjoyed not knowing and being surprised when the answer was revealed.

Take your own journey along the Oriental Express by finding this book in our catalog.

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