I turned to my Agatha Christie shelves for this week’s twitter poll over at @moyle3, spurred on by a trailer for Branagh’s new Murder on the Orient Express. This novel was up against N or M? (I do love Tommy and Tuppence) and Destination Unknown, one of the few Christie novels to not feature Poirot, Marple or the aforementioned Beresfords. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the new film interest and the fact it’s probably one of her most famous titles, Murder on the Orient Express won.
As is the case with Dr Who, I think we all have our own Poirot. For me, it has to be David Suchet. All others are always just a bit too tall, too grey, too old. And so it is David Suchet I have in mind as I re-read this classic Christie. Returning to the fastidious and precise Poirot is such a relief after so many emotionally damaged detectives with chaotic lives and desks (although I’ll make an exception here for the wonderful Cormoran Strike). There’s no clutter with Poirot – the unfolding case in hand is enough of a plot. We see Christie’s fondness for her Belgian detective, ‘Hercule Poirot tried to look modest but failed signally’ as she sets him off on his new case. This has all the hallmarks of a perfect crime novel – the train, travelling from Istanbul to Calais, has hit heavy snow and its occupants are trapped on board. It quickly transpires that many of the travellers are perhaps not what they first appear to be, and one of the many enjoyments is to be had in guessing what they each have to hide. A murder is committed – we don’t have to wait long – but fortunately for all, Poirot is on board to engage his little grey cells to such superb effect.
The train carriage is the perfect location for Christie to use, allowing for unlocked connecting doors, a scarlet silk kimono, dodgy papers, and a range of characters from different backgrounds.
‘For three days these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other.’
Christie returned to this idea of trapping her characters in isolation five years later, with And Then There Were None (1939). The delight occurs in unearthing connections and histories that Poirot alone is able to piece together. In Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot’s final reveal is marvellous, all you’d want from a Christie novel, and I’ll now be going back to my shelves for more re-reads. I’m not sure Branagh can ever replace my Poirot, but I’m looking forward to seeing this novel on the big screen.
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