One of Christie’s most beloved and famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express is top-tier Dame Agatha, so effortlessly readable I finished most of it while taking a very long bath. It’s also something of a favourite for big-screen adaptation, as evidenced by the recent star-studded version with Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, though I haven’t seen either that or the 1974 adaptation.
Picking this Poirot novel as my next Christie re-read was a purely strategic choice. Since I’ve committed to a full Christie marathon, it meant revisiting occasional stinkers as well as masterpieces; not everything Dame Agatha touched turned to gold. If I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of duds to read through gritted teeth, I’d better start sprinkling them in along the way. I remember being underwhelmed with a few Christie novels, but I’d be surprised if I come across a worse book than The Big Four. It’s a relief to get this travesty out of the way.
I’ve now plowed through about one third of Agatha Christie’s detective oeuvre (only three more years to go before I finish them all, going by the current pace… wheee), but I’ve only now stumbled on a novel that features and is narrated by Hercule Poirot’s own faithful Watson, Arthur Hastings. I say stumbled because, while the details of the story gradually floated back into my memory the longer I read, especially the undeniably clever ending, this novel had kinda faded from my brain. Though maybe not the most memorable Poirot mystery ever, it’s not without its charms, not the least of which is the friendship between Poirot and Hastings. Everyone likes a bickering couple!
Hercule Poirot takes a midday flight from Paris to London, but thanks to acute motion sickness, can’t take time to observe the ten fellow passengers in his section of the plane. The diverse bunch includes a crime novel writer, a countess with a secret cocaine habit, father and son archaeologists, a Harley Street doctor, a young hairdresser back from a holiday and an attractive dentist in the opposite seat who she’s crushing on. As the plane nears its destination, the stewards make a shocking discovery: one of the passengers, an elderly French lady, is found slumped and dead in her seat.
One of the best things about my Agatha Christie challenge has been learning all sorts of trivia about the books I’ve loved for many many years. I never realised that Dead Man’s Folly was actually written around a real, specific location, namely Greenway House in South Devon. Once the beloved holiday home of Agatha Christie, the estate is now apparently open to the visitors, and if I’m ever in that part of the UK I’ll be sure to look it up.
This enjoyable Poirot novel is one of those Christie books that, despite having a good solid murder mystery at its core, is mostly enjoyable for the aspects other than the actual crime investigation. It’s unusually playful and self-referential at times, with Dame Agatha taking the opportunity to poke fun at her most popular creation.
During her prolific career, Agatha Christie penned a few spy thrillers, or at least novels with strong elements of international intrigue and espionage, which for me were never on the same level with her best work (I keep putting off re-reading any of the Tommy and Tuppence novels, easily my least favourite Christie series). This book is not a fully fledged espionage novel, more like a strange hybrid of spy thriller and boarding school murder mystery, with Hercule Poirot cameo thrown in the last third for reasons that, one suspects, have nothing to do with story needs. Though flawed and uneven, it’s still quite enjoyable.