Murder on the Orient Express: It’s an M&M Book

Eliza Harrild

Reading Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is like trying to put together a complicated puzzle while multiple pieces are being withheld from you, but once you get the pieces together it’s not even the picture featured on the box. Of course to some, the fact that it’s not the puzzle they were expecting when they got it upsets and frustrates them. To others, it’s a pleasant surprise or challenge. Murder on the Orient Express hardly needs an in-depth summary, as the main plot point is plainly displayed on the title, but I’ll indulge myself and condense its plot anyways. Detective Hercule Poirot is the main character, a world renowned detective who’s well-known for his fabulous mustache as well as his refusal to take on a case unless it interests him. Poirot takes a train (the Orient Express, if you like specifics) and on this train there is a surprising diversity of strangers all traveling together to the same destination. One man, Samuel Ratchett, a man with a “strange malevolence” in his gaze, is killed on the train’s way to England. The rest of the novel comprises Poirot interviewing the compartments passengers and gathering clues and evidence to who the murderer might possibly be. At the conclusion of the novel, it is revealed that the murderer wasn’t just one or even two culprits, but that all of the passengers in the compartment were involved in the murder. This ending perhaps could be the reason for it’s high sales, it’s one of Christie’s highest selling novels written. I believe this ending was a fantastic way to tie the whole novel together, even if some may think it doesn’t make sense. 

If you take into account everything that was mentioned in the novel, all the clues and evidence, all of the people and alibis, practically the entire novel if you will, the fact that all of the passengers were complicit in the murder is the only possible outcome from the information given. Sure, leading up to the reveal, it wouldn’t make sense at all, there could only be one murderer, maybe two. But once it all unfolds, it really is the only possible answer. Some may argue that it’s hard to believe that they all happened to be there to kill him, but that’s just the thing. They didn’t happen to be there, it was all a premeditated well thought out plan that honestly would have succeeded if not for Poirot being on the train, and the train becoming stuck in the snow. As Poirot says while he reveals he solved the murder, “…the case seemed fantastically impossible! That was exactly the impression intended to be conveyed. Did this solution explain everything? Yes, it did.” As soon as Poirot saw the case for what it was, even he knew there could be no other explanation for the baffling crime. But of course, a mystery book needs a plot, so instead of a perfect murder that has no reprobate criminal to be found, there is a plot as tangled as long curly hair in Florida when it’s windy outside. But to comb through this knot of misplaced and confusing clues, you have to look at the evidence from a standpoint that it’s not a stereotypical detective story. This is because Christie is the one who wrote the basis for detective stories, so everything she writes doesn’t need to follow the same pattern and ending as all the others, because they’re the ones following her own pattern. Because of this, her plot is unique and captivating. Although, the characters in her book may not be as captivating as the plot itself. 

In Murder on the Orient Express there are various characters that are all integral to the story. Normally, lots of characters with unique personalities and backgrounds are positive additions and add depth to the story. But in Murder on the Orient Express, the characters fall short of what they could be. Personally, the only character I found to be quite charming was Poirot’s good friend M. Bouc. He is a fabulous character because he has a strong personality, and an entertaining one at that. Christie used Bouc to sprinkle in bits of humor throughout the novel, which were well needed and much appreciated. Bouc’s traits add color and life to the novel, and most of the other characters are almost dull because of their flatness in comparison. Christie failed to make realistic characters with realistic dialogue and interactions throughout the novel. The strangeness of the characters’ interactions could be attributed to the fact that they were all acting as if not to know each other, so they could hide their guilt in the crime, but the way some characters spoke just didn’t feel natural. An example of this is when Poirot is interviewing Miss Debenham (an English governess) for the second time. 

“‘You will not tell me your secret, Mademoiselle?’

Poirot’s voice was very gentle and persuasive.

She said in a low voice:

‘I can’t—I can’t.’

 And suddenly, without warning, she broke down, dropping her face down upon her outstretched arms and crying as though her heart would break.”

Miss Debenham has been shown and described as cold and aloof, with a lack of showing emotions, so her conversation with Poirot just feels unrealistic and out of character (with however much character that has even been ascribed to her). Along with unnatural interactions such as this, the characters are almost all relatively flat and hardly change at all during the entirety of the 315 paged novel. 

All in all, Murder on the Orient Express is a classic that is worthy of its title. I would say that Murder on the Orient Express is cilantro, because some people read it and taste soap, so naturally they don’t like it. Others read it and taste cilantro, and they like it. Of course there always could be an outlier that reads it and tastes cilantro but just doesn’t like the taste of it, but there seems to be a tendency to either like the book or hate it. I would recommend this book to people who tend to enjoy mind puzzles and figuring things out, and would take pleasure in the twist and turns the book brings. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who likes more anticipation and high stakes type of murder mysteries, because that isn’t what this book is, so it’d be a waste for both the book and reader. Overall, Murder on the Orient Express was something I enjoyed reading like I enjoy eating M&M’s: quickly and without regret.