Sunday, 20 July 2014

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express seemed like apt reading material for the 6-hour train journey to my graduation ceremony at the weekend, although it did make me long for the lovely old-fashioned trains portrayed in the book, instead of the crowded, greasy and boiling hot ones I was stuck on at the time.

We begin with Hercule Poirot travelling back to London, after solving a case in Syria. He plans to break his journey for three days exploring Stamboul (or Istanbul, as we now know it), but receives an urgent telegraph to return home immediately. He bumps into a friend of his who happens to be a director of the railway company owning the Orient Express, who pulls some strings and gets him a last-minute berth in an unseasonably crowded train bound for London.

Once on the train, he meets a couple of his former travelling companions, who seem now to be avoiding one another, as well as making the acquaintance of the diverse range of other passengers on the carriage. After a day or two of travel, the train is halted by a snowdrift, and in the morning one of the passengers is discovered murdered. Trapped on a train with the murderer, and without the facility of telegramming for further information about his suspects, Poirot must puzzle out the identity of the culprit using his deductive powers alone.

As usual with Agatha Christie, the plot keeps you guessing throughout, and I felt rather smug at having spotted a pivotal clue at the time it happened. Naturally, the conclusion is rather contrived compared to modern, gritty detective dramas, but that’s one of the great things about Christie’s novels – you have the pleasant sensation of sitting safely outside the action, watching what’s going on and wondering about the solution.

Hercule Poirot’s warm, amiable character and strong sense of compassion and humour is also a nice contrast from other early detective fiction, for instance Sherlock Holmes’ cold intellectual logic. For Holmes each crime is simply a puzzle to be clinically solved and the culprit handed over to the authorities for justice, but Poirot sees each suspect as a human being, and uses this to his advantage when making his deductions.

Next up: Legend by David Gemmell

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