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Murder on the Orient Express is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on January 1, 1934[1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Murder in the Calais Coach.[2][3] The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[4] and the US edition at $2.00.[3]

The US title of Murder on the Calais Coach was used to avoid confusion with the 1932 Graham Greene novel Stamboul Train which had been published in the US as Orient Express.[5]

Plot summaryModifier

Returning from an important case in Palestine, Hercule Poirot boards the Orient Express in Istanbul. The train is unusually crowded for the time of year. Poirot secures a berth only with the help of his friend M. Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. When a Mr. Harris fails to show up, Poirot takes his place. On the second night, Poirot gets a compartment to himself.

That night, near Belgrade, at about twenty-three minutes before 1:00 am, Poirot wakes to the sound of a loud noise. It seems to come from the compartment next to his, which is occupied by Mr. Ratchett. When Poirot peeks out his door, he sees the conductor knock on Mr. Ratchett's door and ask if he is all right. A man replies in French "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé", which means "It's nothing. I made a mistake", and the conductor moves on to answer a bell down the passage. Poirot decides to go back to bed, but he is disturbed by the fact that the train is unusually still and his mouth is dry.

As he lies awake, he hears Mrs. Hubbard ringing the bell urgently. When Poirot then rings the conductor for a bottle of mineral water, he learns that Mrs. Hubbard was afraid that someone had been in her compartment. He also learns that the train has stopped due to a snowstorm. Poirot dismisses the conductor and tries to go back to sleep, only to be wakened again by a thump on his door. This time when Poirot gets up and looks out of his compartment, the passage is completely silent, and he sees nothing except the back of a woman in a scarlet kimono retreating down the passage in the distance.

The next day he awakens to find that Ratchett is dead, having been stabbed twelve times in his sleep. However, the clues and circumstances are very mysterious. Some of the stab wounds are very deep and some are glancing blows. Furthermore, some of them appear to have been inflicted by a right-handed person and some by a left-handed person.

Poirot finds several more clues in the victim's cabin and on board the train, including a linen handkerchief embroidered with the initial "H", a pipe cleaner, and a button from a conductor's uniform. All of these clues suggest that the murderer or murderers were somewhat sloppy. However, each clue seemingly points to different suspects, which suggests that some of the clues were planted.

By reconstructing parts of a burned letter, Poirot discovers that Mr. Ratchett was a notorious fugitive from the US named Cassetti. Five years earlier, Cassetti kidnapped three-year-old American heiress Daisy Armstrong. Though the Armstrong family paid a large ransom, Cassetti murdered the little girl and fled the country with the money. Daisy's mother, Sonia Armstrong, was pregnant when she heard of Daisy's death. The shock sent her into premature labour, and both she and the child died. Her husband, Colonel Armstrong, shot himself out of grief. The nurse-maid, Susanne, was suspected by the police, despite her protests. She threw herself out of a window and died, after which she was proved innocent.

As the evidence mounts, it continues to point in wildly different directions and it appears that Poirot is being challenged by a master mind. A critical piece of missing evidence – the scarlet kimono worn the night of the murder by an unknown woman – turns up in Poirot's own luggage.

Poirot discovers that some of the passengers had connections to the victim, while others had connections to the Armstrong family.

  • Masterman was Colonel Armstrong's batman during the war.
  • Colonel Arbuthnot was Colonel Armstrong's comrade and best friend.
  • Mrs. Hubbard was formerly an actress under the name of Linda Arden (real name Linda Goldenberg), and Sonia Armstrong's mother.
  • Countess Andrenyi (née Goldenberg) was Mrs. Armstrong's sister.
  • Princess Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother.
  • Miss Debenham was Mrs. Armstrong's secretary and Daisy Armstrong's governess.
  • Miss Schmidt was the Armstrong family's cook.
  • Foscarelli was the Armstrong family's chauffeur.
  • Miss Ohlsson was Daisy Armstrong's nurse.
  • Pierre Michel was the father of Susanne, the nurse-maid.
  • Hardman was a policeman in love with Susanne.

After meditating on the evidence, Poirot assembles the twelve suspects, M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine in the restaurant car. He lays out two possible explanations of Ratchett's murder.

Poirot's first explanation is that a stranger – some gangster enemy of Ratchett – boarded the train at Vincovci, the last stop, murdered Ratchett for reasons unknown, and escaped unnoticed. The crime occurred an hour earlier than everyone thought, because the victim and several others failed to note that the train had just crossed into a different time zone. The other noises heard by Poirot on the coach that evening were unrelated to the murder. However, Dr. Constantine says that Poirot must surely be aware that this does not fully explain the circumstances of the case.

Poirot's second explanation is rather more sensational: All of the suspects are guilty. Poirot's suspicions were first piqued by the fact that these people were acquaintances of many different European nationalities. Poirot reasons that this usually occurs in the United States of America, the "melting pot" where a Scotsman may be acquainted with an Italian and a German, all of different social classes and all at the same time. There was no other way the murder could have taken place, given the evidence. Poirot reveals that the other passengers were all relatives, servants, or friends of the Armstrong family, or had connections to the crime. All had been gravely affected by Daisy's murder and the consequences of the crime. They took it into their own hands to serve as Cassetti's executioners, to avenge a crime the law was unable to punish.

Each of the suspects stabbed Ratchett once, so that no one could know who delivered the fatal blow. Twelve of the conspirators participated to allow for a "twelve-person jury", with Count Andrenyi acting for his wife, as she – Daisy's aunt – would have been the most likely suspect. One extra berth was booked under a fictitious name – Harris – so no one but the conspirators and the victim would be on board. (The cabin next to Ratchett was already reserved for a director of the Wagons-Lits.)

The unexpected stoppage in the snowbank, and Poirot's unexpected presence, caused complications to the conspirators that resulted in several crucial clues being left behind. As Poirot reveals the details of the elaborate plot, many of the suspects break down in tears. Mrs. Hubbard confesses that the second theory is correct.

Poirot thus lays down the two explanations before all assembled and asks the director of the Company International de Wagons-Lits as to which explanation he thinks is correct. M. Bouc says that they should give the first explanation to the police. With pity for the Armstrong family, Poirot and Dr. Constantine agree. His task completed, Poirot states he has "the honour to retire from the case."

CharactersModifier

The Victim:

  • Samuel Edward Ratchett (Cassetti), an unsavoury-looking man with a dark secret.

The Suspects:

  • Hector Willard MacQueen, a tall, handsome, young American, the victim's secretary and translator.
  • Edward Henry Masterman, the victim's British valet.
  • Pierre Michel, the French conductor of the Calais coach.
  • Mary Hermione Debenham, a tall, dark, young British woman, working as a governess in Baghdad.
  • Colonel Arbuthnot, a tall British army officer returning from India.
  • Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, an imperious, elderly Russian noblewoman and grande dame.
  • Hildegarde Schmidt, a middle-aged German woman, Princess Dragomiroff's lady's maid.
  • Count Rudolph Andrenyi, a tall, dark Hungarian diplomat with English manner and clothing, travelling to France.
  • Countess Helena/Elena Andrenyi, the Count's pale young wife.
  • Greta Ohlsson, a middle-aged blonde Swedish missionary returning home for a vacation who cannot speak much English.
  • Mrs. Caroline Martha Hubbard, a plump, elderly, very excitable American returning from a visit to her daughter, a teacher in Baghdad.
  • Antonio Foscarelli, a swarthy and exuberant Italian businessman.
  • Cyrus Bethman Hardman, a private investigator from New York City.

The Investigators:

  • Hercule Poirot – The Detective
  • Monsieur Bouc – The Director
  • Dr. Stavros Constantine – The Doctor

Arrangement of the Calais Coach:

    Corridor  
Athens-Paris Coach Michel 16. Hardman 15. Arbuthnot 14. Dragomiroff 13. R. Andrenyi 12. E. Andrenyi 3. Hubbard 2. Ratchett 1. Poirot 10. Ohlsson
11. Debenham
8. Schmidt
9.
6. MacQueen
7.
4. Masterman
5. Foscarelli
Dining Car

Modèle:Legend Modèle:Legend Modèle:Legend

Literary significance and receptionModifier

The Times Literary Supplement of January 11, 1934 outlined the plot and concluded that "The little grey cells solve once more the seemingly insoluble. Mrs Christie makes an improbable tale very real, and keeps her readers enthralled and guessing to the end."[6]

In The New York Times Book Review of March 4, 1934, Isaac Anderson finished by saying, "The great Belgian detective's guesses are more than shrewd; they are positively miraculous. Although both the murder plot and the solution verge upon the impossible, Agatha Christie has contrived to make them appear quite convincing for the time being, and what more than that can a mystery addict desire?"[7]

The reviewer in The Guardian of January 12, 1934 stated that the murder would have been “perfect” had Poirot not been on the train and also overheard a conversation between Miss Devonham [sic] and Colonel Arbuthnot before he boarded, however, "'The little grey cells' worked admirably, and the solution surprised their owner as much as it may well surprise the reader, for the secret is well kept and the manner of the telling is in Mrs. Christie’s usual admirable manner.”[8]

Robert Barnard: "The best of the railway stories. The Orient Express, snowed up in Yugoslavia, provides the ideal 'closed' set-up for a classic-style exercise in detection, as well as an excuse for an international cast-list. Contains my favourite line in all Christie: 'Poor creature, she's a Swede.' Impeccably clued, with a clever use of the Cyrillic alphabet (cf. The Double Clue). The solution raised the ire of Raymond Chandler, but won't bother anyone who doesn't insist his detective fiction mirror real-life crime."[9] The reference is to Chandler's criticism of Christie in his essay The Simple Art of Murder.

References and allusionsModifier

References to actual history, geography and current scienceModifier

Modèle:Main The Armstrong kidnapping case was based on the actual kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932, just before the book was written. A maid employed by Mrs. Lindbergh's parents was suspected of involvement in the crime, and after being harshly interrogated by police, committed suicide.

Another, less-remembered, real-life event also helped inspire the novel. Agatha Christie first travelled on the Orient Express in the autumn of 1928. Just a few months later, in February 1929, an Orient Express train was trapped by a blizzard near Cherkeskoy, Turkey, remaining marooned for six days.[10]

Christie herself was involved in a similar incident in December 1931 while returning from a visit to her husband's archaeological dig at Nineveh. The Orient Express train she was on was stuck for twenty-four hours, due to rainfall, flooding and sections of the track being washed away. Her authorised biography quotes in full a letter to her husband detailing the event. The letter includes descriptions of some passengers on the train, who influenced the plot and characters of the book: in particular an American lady, Mrs. Hilton, who was the inspiration for Mrs. Hubbard[11].

References in other worksModifier

  • Murder on the Orient Express was parodied on an episode of SCTV, in which the story has been turned into a b-movie by William Castle, titled Death Takes No Holiday. John Candy plays Poirot while Andrea Martin plays Agatha Christie. In the penultimate moment, when Poirot grills the suspect-passengers (floating the theory that perhaps the train itself is the murderer), the film cuts to William Castle Dave Thomas who tells the audience that he will let them choose who the murderer is.

AdaptationsModifier

RadioModifier

John Moffatt starred as Poirot in a five-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation by Michael Blakewell directed by Enyd Williams, with Andre Maranne as M. Bouc, Joss Ackland as Ratchett, Sylvia Syms as Mrs. Hubbard, Siân Phillips as Princess Dragomiroff, Francesca Annis as Mary Debenham and Peter Polycarpou as Dr. Constantine.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)Modifier

Modèle:Main

The book was made into a 1974 movie, which is considered one of the most successful cinematic adaptations of Christie's work ever. The film starred Albert Finney (d. 2019) as Poirot, Martin Balsam as M. Bianchi, Richard Widmark as Ratchett and an all-star cast of suspects including Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Michael York, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jacqueline Bisset, Dame Wendy Hiller, Vanessa Redgrave, Colin Blakely and Ingrid Bergman (who won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Greta Ohlsson). Only minor changes were made for the film: Masterman was renamed Beddoes, the dead maid was named Paulette instead of Susanne, Arbuthnot became Arbuthnott, and M. Bouc became M. Bianchi.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001)Modifier

Modèle:Main

The novel was made into a made-for-television film which was first aired in 2001 with Alfred Molina as Poirot.

Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)Modifier

David Suchet reprises the role of Hercule Poirot in the television series co-produced by ITV Studios and WGBH-TV.

The original air date was July 11, 2010 in the United States.

The cast comprises Eileen Atkins as Princess Dragomiroff, Barbara Hershey as Caroline Hubbard, Toby Jones as Samuel Ratchett, Elena Satine as Countess Andrenyi, Brian J. Smith as Hector MacQueen, David Morrissey as Colonel John Arbuthnot, Jessica Chastain as Mary Debenham, and Denis Menochet as Pierre Michel, among others.

Part of the filming included Malta standing in for Istanbul. Philip Martin directs this installment, with the screenplay being written by Stewart Harcourt (who also wrote the screenplay for The Clocks).

While generally faithful to the original story, it has a number of major differences, such as the character of Cyrus Hardman is written out of the story, with Doctor Constantine (who is changed from a Greek doctor to Mrs. Armstrong's American obstetrician) taking his place among the "jury", Antonio Foscarelli being the maid's (whose name is changed from Susanne to Françoise) lover as well as being the chauffeur.

Following a trend of introduced religious elements in the series after 2003, the script includes extended religious and moral dialogues and the ending is greatly changed to imagine Poirot's philosophical struggle before he can resolve to let the murderers escape trial. Other deviations from the novel include scenes of the stoning of an adulteress on the streets of Istanbul, Mary Debenham having a lame right arm from injuries sustained while trying to stop Daisy Armstrong's kidnapping and being the organizer of the plan, whereas in the novel it was Caroline Hubbard/Linda Arden.

Helena Armstrong/Countess Andrenyi's real maiden name, along with that of their mother's name, is changed from Goldenberg to Wasseestein, German for "water stone" then Anglicized to Waterston. In the 1974 movie directed by Sidney Lumet, it had been Grünwald, German for Greenwood. This movie version has Princess Dragomiroff saying to Poirot to turn herself in, while in the book it is Linda Arden who asks Poirot to turn herself in as the lone assassin if he would turn anyone in.

PC adaptationModifier

Modèle:Main

On November 21, 2006, The Adventure Company released a PC adaptation of the book. The game starred David Suchet as the voice of Hercule Poirot and had the players play the role of a blonde French (English educated) woman named Antoinette Marceau working for the train company on behalf of M. Bouc (who does not appear in the game). To create an original mystery for people who had already read the book, additional content was created resulting in a "third solution" expanding on the first two that Poirot proposes in the novel.

An activity called Murder on the Orient Express appears in Microsoft Train Simulator and follows a similar plot line to the book.

Graphic novel adaptationModifier

Murder on the Orient Express was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 16, 2007, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Solidor (Jean-François Miniac) (ISBN 0-00-724658-7). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2003 under the title of Le Crime de L'Orient-Express.

Publication historyModifier

  • 1934, Collins Crime Club (London), January 1, 1934, Hardcover, 256 pp
  • 1934, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934, Hardcover, 302 pp
  • c.1934, Lawrence E. Spivak, Abridged edition, 126 pp
  • 1940, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, (Pocket number 79), 246 pp
  • 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 689), 222 pp
  • 1959, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1965, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 253 pp ISBN 0-70-890188-3
  • 1968, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 254 pp
  • 1968, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 254 pp
  • 1978, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
  • 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1934 UK first edition), September 4, 2006, Hardcover, 256 pp ISBN 0-00-723440-6

The story's first true publication was the US serialisation in six installments in the Saturday Evening Post from September 30 to November 4, 1933 (Volume 206, Numbers 14 to 19). The title was Murder in the Calais Coach, and it was illustrated by William C. Hoople.

The UK serialisation appeared after book publication. The story appeared in three installments in the Grand Magazine, in March, April, and May, 1934 (Issues 349 to 351). This version was abridged from the book version (losing some 25% of the text), was without chapter divisions, and named the Russian princess as Dragiloff instead of Dragomiroff.

Advertisements in the back pages of the UK first editions of The Listerdale Mystery, Why Didn't They Ask Evans and Parker Pyne Investigates claimed that Murder on the Orient Express had proven to be Christie’s best-selling book to date and the best-selling book published in the Collins Crime Club series.

Book dedicationModifier

The dedication of the book reads:
"To M.E.L.M. Arpachiyah, 1933"

"M.E.L.M." is Christie's second husband, archaeologist Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan (1904-78). She dedicated four books to him, either singly or jointly, the others being The Sittaford Mystery (1931), Come Tell Me How You Live (1946), and Christie's final written work, Postern of Fate (1973).

Christie and Mallowan were married after a short engagement on September 11, 1930, followed by a honeymoon in Italy. After his final seasons working on someone else's dig (Reginald Campbell Thompson – see the dedication to Lord Edgware Dies), Max raised the funds to lead an expedition of his own. With sponsorship from the Trustees of the British Museum and the British School of Archeology in Iraq[12], he set off in 1933 for a mound at Arpachiyah, north-west of Nineveh where "after several anxious weeks... considerable quantities of beautifully decorated pottery and figures came to the surface."[13] A notable feature of this season is that for the first time, Christie, the rank amateur, assisted the professionals in their work. She was responsible for keeping written records and proved highly adept at cleaning and re-assembling pottery fragments. As at Nineveh, she also found the time to continue writing, with this book, Why Didn't They Ask Evans, and Unfinished Portrait being drafted at the dig[13] (although a claim has been made that Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul – see External Links below). Despite this success, after 1933, Mallowan discontinued work in Iraq due to the worsening political situation, and moved on to Syria.

Dustjacket blurbModifier

The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads:

"The famous Orient Express, thundering along on its three-days' journey across Europe, came to a sudden stop in the night. Snowdrifts blocked the line at a desolate spot somewhere in the Balkans. Everything was deathly quiet. 'Decidedly I suffer from the nerves,' murmured Hercule Poirot, and fell asleep again. He awoke to find himself very much wanted. For in the night murder had been committed. Mr. Ratchett, an American millionaire, was found lying dead in his berth – stabbed. The untrodden snow around the train proved that the murderer was still on board. Poirot investigates. He lies back and thinks – with his little grey cells...
Murder on the Orient Express must rank as one of the most ingenious stories ever devised. The solution is brilliant. One can but admire the amazing resource of Agatha Christie."

ReferencesModifier

Modèle:Reflist

External links Modifier


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