Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

IMG_4538Murder On The Orient Express. As evocative titles go, it’s right up there. This modern reproduction of the 1930s Crime Club edition of the book even has what seem to be the original creases embossed on the dustjacket. Hercule Poirot would have admired the detail. The story begins in Syria – Aleppo, to be exact; the governess Miss Debenham has travelled via Baghdad. How times change. In the Balkans, the train gets stuck in the snow, with its bevy of distinctively odd passengers. Someone is killed, all good stuff. The book is arranged in three parts: THE FACTS, THE EVIDENCE and – brilliantly, HERCULE POIROT SITS BACK AND THINKS. But it is easy to forget that Poirot’s clever investigation hinges on an unimaginably awful crime: the murder of a child. Agatha Christie is often characterised as comfy. Like other female authors who were prolific and popular (cf. Daphne du Maurier and Catherine Cookson), she has been relentlessly patronised, both during her career and after her death. As though any of them cared. Anyway, there is a nihilism to Christie’s work that goes ignored. Just because she doesn’t go into detail doesn’t mean the horror isn’t there. Movie makers have understood this: Kenneth Branagh’s stab at the book contains a strong element of guilt for Poirot as he realises the limits of justice. Christie is having none of that. Poirot solves the case, offers up his solution(s) and then departs. But the Belgian must indeed be a brilliant detective if he can spot (without access to Google Images, or to any criminal databases) what is going on: often the coincidences in novels can be waved through by the reader while those in films cannot be so easily swallowed. This might be something to do with the physical representation: seeing coincidences is so much less realistic than reading them. Why, then, does the novel Murder On The Orient Express feel so static and unrealistic when the movie versions are so engaging? Reading it in 1934 would probably have been a more satisfying experience. Perhaps the shadow of the films is simply too long. It’s more fun watching stars trying out silly accents, as in 1974’s ‘who’s who of the whodunnit’.

 

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