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.
This novel marks the debut of Miss Marple, Christie’s other beloved fictional detective, a gentle and harmless-looking old lady with a keen interest in human nature and a remarkably clear view of its dark side. I couldn’t say if it’s the best Miss Marple whodunit, but it ranks as my personal favourite for being so enjoyable to re-visit. I lost count of how many times I picked up my old tattered copy of The Murder at the Vicarage (now replaced with a more respectable one) for a quick and easy in-between comfort re-read.
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.
This stand-alone mystery was one of the first Christie novels I’ve ever read, and for that reason I’ve always had a soft spot for it even though the best compliment I can give the book is “solid”. Many other Christie novels have more memorable settings and ingenious twists, this one simply has classic crime ingredients – a small group of suspects, poison and red herrings galore – that come together for a cracking good read.
This stand-alone mystery is one of Christie’s oddest crime novels, which is probably why it’s one of her books that stuck in my memory the most. I don’t necessarily think it’s an example of Christie at her best; the non-linear plot meanders somewhat and the resolution is far too abrupt. But it’s certainly one of her most interesting books, with some unusual elements that I can’t remember seeing anywhere else in Christie’s oeuvre.