Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Classics Club 14: Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie is apparently the best selling novelist of all time and the author of the third most widely published works of all time after the Bible and those of Shakespeare. Since I have never read anything by her, and since my daughter has a surprising liking for murder mysteries, it was a no-brainer to include something by her in my Classics Club Challenge.

Murder on the Orient Express features Hercules Poirot, one of Christie's mostly well-known detectives - the other being Miss Marple. In a straight forward plot Poirot is travelling from Istanbul on a train, the Orient Express. Mr Ratchett, a fellow passenger, fears his life is in danger and approaches Poirot to investigate. Poirot does not like Ratchett's manner so refuses. That night Poirot is woken several times by various disturbances. The following morning he learns that Ratchett has been stabbed to death in his locked compartment and is asked to investigate.

After a relatively brief scene examination Poirot begins interviewing the conductor and twelve of the passengers. Initially all seem to be strangers and all have alibis. Further investigation reveals that some of the clues (like an open window in Ratchett's compartment) are red herrings and others (a woman in a red kimono) are frustrating dead ends. Then Poirot discovers that Ratchett was in fact Casetti, the infamous mastermind behind the kidnapping and abduction of  the Daisy Armstrong, a crime for which he was never punished. The intrigue continues when it is revealed that each of the passengers has a connection to the Armstrong family and all suffered as a result of fallout from the case.

After pondering on all the evidence Poirot gathers the passengers together and outlines two possible scenarios. I won't reveal what they are, nor which is the correct scenario, nor how the case is eventually resolved. Suffice to say you'll need to read the book yourself.

Murder on the Orient Express was an easy read, although sifting through the evidence did give my brain a workout. At first glance it was an enjoyable read with well-drawn characters, yet one with no greater purpose. However, the ultimate resolution raises some interesting questions about justice and what lengths individuals are warranted in going to should justice be denied through official channels. For this reason I feel Murder on the Orient Express rises above the level of  mere entertainment.

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