Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express must be one of Agatha Christie’s most well known books. It was first published in 1934 and it was first filmed in 1974, starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, and most recently in 2010 with David Suchet as Poirot. I’ve seen both films and so knew the plot, but I’d never read the book until now.

Poirot is on the Orient Express, on a three-days journey across Europe. But after midnight the train comes to a halt, stuck in a snowdrift. In the morning the millionaire Simon Ratchett is found dead in his compartment his body stabbed a dozen times and his door locked from the inside. It is obvious from the lack of tracks in the snow that no-one has left the train and by a process of elimination Poirot establishes that one of the passengers in the Athens to Paris coach is the murderer.

Poirot interviews the passengers and the Wagon Lit conductors, none of whom appear to have a motive for killing Ratchett or to have any connection with him or each other. Poirot decides that this

… is a crime very carefully planned and staged. It is a far-sighted, long-headed crime. It is not – how shall I express it? – a Latin crime. It is a crime that shows traces of a cool, resourceful, deliberate brain – I think an Anglo-Saxon brain. (page 193)

Having interviewed all the suspects Poirot draws up a list of questions about things that need explaining. This leads him to speculation and re-interviewing some of the suspects and eventually he arrives at the truth. It’s hard to know whether I would have arrived at the same conclusion if I hadn’t seen the films, but watching the first one it did become obvious before the denouement.

I liked this book enormously. I like the way Agatha Christie divided it into three sections – The Facts, the Evidence and Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks. I liked the characterisation and all the, now so non-pc, comments about nationalities, highlighting class and racial prejudice. I like the problem-solving and ingenuity of the plot.

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece edition (Reissue) edition (3 Sep 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0007119313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007119318
  • Source: Library book because I can’t find my own copy!

12 thoughts on “Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie”

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. Like you, I very liked the characterisation in this book, which highlights the prejudices of the day. I also really cared about those characters, especially at the end. This one is one of my top three or four favourite Christies, and I am so glad you liked as well.

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  2. That is just about the only Agatha Christie book where I can remember who did it (it’s kind of hard to forget, after all). The Orient Express setting is what makes the book a favourite of mine, it must have been quite challenging to get it all to work out. My roleplaying group has been planning an adventure set on the Orient Express for ages, maybe one of these days we will get around to it.

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  3. I did all of the things you did, watched all the versions of this film, and as yet have not read my very old copy. I do hope this doesn’t get fixed, some of those prejudices are important, after all this is history, and yes we fixed things up these days, but this is fiction reflecting life.

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  4. One thing I like about this book is that the motive for the murder is convincing. I think this is not always the case with Agatha Christie. In some books she is very concerned about having a clever plot, but the motive does not always convince. In this one, the plot is clever and the motive is believable as well.

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  5. Do you know, I’ve not read this either… I went through a stage of reading loads of Christie, back in 2002 or thereabouts, and since have only read one or two. Everytime I see her mentioned, I intend to read more… and I have those intentions again this time!

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  6. This is a great Agatha Christie! I love her Hercule Poirot, he’s a wonderful character and she ascribes such delightful details to him! I enjoy how he goes about solving the crime and the attitudes and behaviors of the other characters. Agatha Christie had a very good understanding of people.

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  7. I own this in an old collection of my late aunt’s but it is called Murder in the Calais Coach. I read that this was the US title and was given ‘to avoid confusion with a 1932 book by Graham Greene called Stamboul Train which had been published in the US as Orient Express.’ I will never know why they change the title of a book from one country to another. Such a great review Margaret, and I so look forward to reading it. Did you happen to see a television show about David Suchet on the Orient Express? It was quite delightful.

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  8. I had not read the book until after seeing the David Suchet version. I like the way the book is structured, it appeals to my organised mind somewhat.

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