Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

“All around us are people of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days they part, they go their separate ways, never, perhaps to see each other again.”

Hercule Poirot is travelling back from Pakistan on the Orient Express and is lucky to get a berth. He finds the train strangely crowded for winter. Populated with a variety of people of varying nationalities and classes, this group is a cross section of the world in miniature, confined to the living quarters of a train. Their interactions inform us on the attitude of the times and Poirot, being the nosy eavesdropper he is, learns all about his fellow passengers through conversation. All seems to be well until the second night when a snowstorm strands the train in the mountains. A series of strange noises precede the death of one Samuel Ratchett, who is discovered the next morning with 12 stab wounds to his chest. Poirot reluctantly takes the case only to find the evidence either nonexistent or bizarrely inconsistent. Each suspect is questioned in turn and Poirot slowly comes to realize he is dealing with a mastermind. Will he uncover the truth and discover the real killer before the train can be dug out from the storm?

This book is somewhat different from a traditional mystery in that it’s divided into three sections: “The Crime Scene”, “The Evidence” and “The Solution”. It’s a strange melding of storytelling and criminal investigation. It’s somewhat jarring at first but doesn’t detract from the story or suspense created by Christie. Again this is another genius plot and as always with her books, I tried to discern the identity of the killer and as always, failed miserably. This definitely makes for one of the more frustrating plot lines and trust me you’ll be kicking yourself once you get to the end. It’s far more complex than you realize. Just make sure you watch out for red herrings.

I love this book, maddening as it is. It's full, in terms of plot and characters. It's fulfilling and it's in the top echelon of Christie novels where it deserves to be. If you've never read any of her books and want to experience her talent to its full extent, reading this book would be a great start.

Rating: 5/5

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