Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is a no-nonsense type of writer- she's sparse, void of flowery language and overly descriptive sentences; she just tells it like it is. Like Hercules Poirot, her Belgian detective, she just sticks to the facts. Murder on the Orient Express elicits the exact sort of scene I think of during that period. Sophisticated, worldly travelers spending time together in a somewhat opulent train car, the women sipping on tea and the men bourbon all while lush landscape passes by in a blur. The conversation would be civilized, lest anyone is offended, and intelligent. As it happens, some of this transpired, but the tranquility is interrupted by the grisly murder of an American, stabbed twelve times in his train car. Poirot was approached by this American, Samuel Ratchett, only hours before because there was a threat made on his life. There are no witnesses to speak of, but Hercules Poirot is nonetheless reluctantly drawn into an investigation. The only clue found in Ratchett’s room is a slip of paper with the words “remember little Daisy Armstrong.” Poirot remembers this sensational kidnapping case in America, wherein a three-year-old was kidnapped and despite the ransom paid by her wealthy parents, was killed. Christie more than likely got the idea from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, a story that continues to titillate. It is determined that Ratchett is really the kidnapper/murderer of little Daisy Armstrong, who fled America after he got off on a technicality. As he interviews each passenger, Poirot’s line of questioning is direct, letting the interviewee tell the details rather him lead with questions. Each person on the train is interviewed, and at the end, Poirot gives two plausible explanations of the murder. Christie’s sense of justice in this story is strong and single-minded but still allows the reader to decide if justice was indeed done. I haven’t seen the movie but was most definitely prompted to read this story because of it. I’ve only read And Then There Were None and A Wasp’s Nest by Christie, so my knowledge of her writing is somewhat limited, but I can see consistency in her wanting to reveal a crisp, concise mystery and that style of writing is much appreciated. Kenneth Branagh, who plays Poirot in the motion picture, does what he does best in this audio.