I’ve never read one of Agatha Christie’s works before. However, in light of the new movie adaptation coming out last week, I gave Murder on the Orient Express a whirl.
This was a fun read, and rather short at only 250 pages or so. Heck, I had the whole thing read in a day and a half so I could see the movie without having the novel spoiled by the movie. And, to be very fair, I was actually well aware at the basic solution to this mystery, but what the hey.
As it is, Christie’s reoccurring genius detective Hercule Poirot is coming back from Syria after a case and is on his way to another one when the train he is on has two things happen. First, the train hits a snowdrift in the middle of nowhere and won’t be going anywhere for a while. Second, the guest in the first class compartment next to Poirot’s own is murdered in what would seem to be nearly impossible circumstances. The stories he hears don’t quite add up, and what clues he does find seem to be planted to throw him or any other investigator off. All he has is 13 possible suspects: a railroad employee and 12 passengers. Poirot has been asked by an executive for the railroad, an old friend of the Belgian detective’s, to resolve the case before they get somewhere where the Yugo-Slavian police will probably cause a PR nightmare for all anyone knows.
This is the classic sort of Christie mystery scenario, where a seemingly impossible murder happened in a single location with a limited number of suspects. There is no way an outsider could be involved with the crime. It had to be someone not only on the train, but on that particular car on the train. And all the suspects have reliable alibis. But Poirot is a Sherlock Holmes-style detective. He can figure things out no matter how baffling things are from the tiniest clues and the psychology of the suspects. Now, if you want something more than the puzzle of the mystery, you’re probably going to be out of luck. Poirot’s character doesn’t really grow or change over time; there are no real revelations about him. There’s just the case, and once it is solved, the book ends. That’s something else he has in common with Sherlock Holmes. Nine out of ten ethnic stereotypes used as clues.