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Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

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Author: Agatha Christie / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 19 February 2009 / Genre: Languages / Subcategory: English Language Teaching (ELT): yes / Category: ELT Graded Readers / Publisher: Pearson Education Limited / Title: Murder on the Orient Express / ISBN 13: 9781405892148 / ISBN 10: 1405892148 / Alternative EAN: 9780425200452

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      15.09.2009 22:52

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      A classic book, and for good reason.

      This was my first Agatha Christie novel, and it won't be the last. Murder on the Orient Express is likely a story a lot of people have heard of, but not necessarily read. Having taken the plunge, bought the book off Amazon, and read it, I'm happy to say I'm very pleased- it is an excellent book.

      Christie weaves her tale very well through the eyes of detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot is taking a trip on the Orient Express, when, shock, horror, there is a murder! The strange circumstances of the murder, confusing and odd evidence will practically ensure you read the book through to the end, just so you know exactly how it happened, and to have these things explained.

      Luckily, though, Christie makes this an extremely enjoyable read. The book follows a logical flow- after the murder (near the start of the book), Poirot investigates the crime scene, interviews the passengers, etc, until the end, where he comes up with TWO possible solutions- and the ending doesn't disappoint. A well recommended book.

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      30.05.2009 21:39
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      Worth reading

      After solving a particularly sensitive case for the French Army, Hercule Poirot was looking forward to a few days relaxing in Stamboul, since he had no other pressing matters. However, a telegram was to reach him at his hotel there, explaining that further progress had been made concerning another investigation and, as a consequence, it was imperative that he return to London. Thus it was that Poirot found himself taking the very last berth of the Simplon Orient train, which - unusually for the time of year - was fully booked. The detective from Belgium was now in a carriage with thirteen other travellers as well as the crew, who came from many different countries and circumstances. For the most part the passengers that he spoke to were pleasant, yet one amongst them exuded an air of hostility that made Poirot think of a wild animal and when that man, who was named Ratchett, asked Poirot if that investigator would help, Poirot refused firmly. Ratchett believed he had a number of enemies and it was therefore little surprise when he was discovered stabbed to death in the early hours one morning. Subsequent investigations revealed him to be Cassetti, a criminal responsible for the kidnap and murder of a three year old child named Daisy Armstrong. The solution to the murder of Cassetti must surely lay in this earlier killing and, with it being virtually certain that the murderer on the train being still on it, Poirot's task - undertaken through a sense of duty than any desire to avenge the death of Cassetti - was to question the remaining passengers within the carriage and determine which of them was responsible. Yet the investigation was not to prove simple, since out of the small number of suspects, every one of them appeared to have an unassailable alibi. With the train held up in heavy snowdrifts before it could get to Yugoslavia, the time that Poirot had was to be spent in one of the most perplexing cases of his career.

      First published in 1934, "Murder on the Orient Express" is, almost certainly, a work which draws heavily upon the kidnapping of the son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1932. Whilst the majority of the novel bears little resemblance to the real life events, the situation of a young child being taken from the family home, an extremely high ransom demanded and the toddler's body subsequently being found are all aspects which Christie incorporated into this narrative. As a consequence, the victim is one of the very few (Mrs Boynton from "Appointment with Death" being another) for whom we are not meant to have any sympathy for. Ratchett - or Cassetti as he becomes more clearly to be known - has no redeeming features and Poirot's handling of the case is strongly influenced by his feelings towards the man. He conducts his questioning of the suspects with particular sympathy for the most part, only moving towards mild anger when he realises he is being lied to. Moreover, due to the motive for Cassetti's murder, the ending is - by dint of the solution and the reaction that Poirot takes towards it - one of the most famous of the Poirot investigations. Whilst I will not mar the story for those who have yet to read it (and incidentally if you have not read it the solution is actually referred to in "Cards on the Table"), the twist is one which is unusual and yet seems very evident when the narrative is read for a subsequent time. The clues are fairly liberal and frequent and, as the relatively short writing progresses they build up to such an extent that the solution appears very transparent. Ironically, it is unexpected because it is expected; we are so used to a more complicated answer being set before us with Christie's works, that when our suspicions might be proved to be correct, it comes as somewhat of a surprise.

      Whilst this novel is, as has been stated, one of Christie's most renowned works, it is not something that can accurately be called one of her strongest works. The plot is somewhat pedestrian in nature, the question and answer format followed by the analysis of the evidence that Poirot unveils being almost as rigid as the tracks on which the train travels. In many respects, then, it follows a very familiar pattern of that investigator's mysteries and it is only the rather unusual setting that sets it apart from such cases as "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", "The Murder of Roger Acroyd" and "Hercule Poirot's Christmas". Indeed, in terms of an investigation which follows the neat pattern of first questioning each suspect in turn, with very little character development or side stories, then "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Hercule Poirot's Christmas" have significant parallels. "Murder on the Orient Express" is, in terms of its style and plot, rather uncomplicated, a plot in which really the sole focus is that of the murder. Whereas other pieces, such as "Taken at the Flood" or "After the Funeral" might examine such themes as the aftermath of a World War, or the relationships which an extended family had, "Murder on the Orient Express" concerns itself only with the murder and the motive for the murder. However, it is this which does place the book in a favourable position, for the reader can concentrate upon uncovering the circumstances of Cassetti's death without getting sidetracked.

      If the main point of the story is the murder which has occurred, then that would go a long way towards explaining why many of the characters are distinctly two dimensional in nature and appear to be more caricatures than well developed personalities. The nationalities of such people as Greta Ohlsson from Sweden and Antonio Foscarelli, for example, have been exaggerated to an extent that, whilst not being exactly insulting, nevertheless serves to remind us that Christie was emphasising where they originated from, rather than their individual beings. Similarly, Mrs Hubbard is portrayed as an over the top middle aged woman from America, her nature owing more to people's stereotypes of what a woman from the United States must be like, rather than any actual representations. Furthermore, the repressed, "stiff upper lip" character of Colonel Arbuthnot and the somewhat prim manner of Mary Debenham also appear to be shadows, as opposed to substance. From the Princess Dragomiroff's overemphasised sense of entitlement, through to the unemotional persona of the valet Masterman, for the most part we are observing aspects which fit neatly into the plot, rather than people in their own right. Two possible exceptions to this, in terms of the suspects at least, is that of the Count Andrenyi, who comes across as having more to his personality than the caricatures imposed upon the others, as does Hector Macqueen. Whilst it would be possible to dismiss this depiction of the personalities in "Murder on the Orient Express" as being mere laziness on Christie's part, it is not as simplistic as that. We know, that whilst she did tend to stereotype many people from different countries (the French maid in "The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan" and Mitzi in "A Murder is Announced" being two such examples), she proved many times that she was perfectly capable of not doing so when she chose, as may be witnessed with Ruth Van Rydock of "They do it with Mirrors" or Rufus Van Aldin from "The Mystery of the Blue Train". Consequently the methods employed to portray many of the personalities in "Murder on the Orient Express" are done for a reason which becomes more apparent by the end of the narrative. Furthermore, since it is the plot and the solution that the novel concentrates on, the characters are little more than props to assist in this. There is scant development of them, little more is revealed of their natures and probably this was exactly as Christie intended.

      However, if we exclude Poirot, whose personality remains as familiarly logical and proud as ever, then there is another character who, whilst not being particularly in-depth either, nevertheless serves as a unofficial companion or assistant to that investigator. Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Company of the Wagon Lits, the group who own the Express, is akin to Chief Inspector Japp, Superintendent Battle (in "Cards on the Table") or, to a lesser extent, Captain Arthur Hastings. Poirot's findings are discussed with this man and, to some degree, the doctor on the train - Dr Stavros Constantine - who offers his professional opinion of the murder. He (Bouc) acts as a conduit between the reader and Poirot, when it is not possible for that detective's thoughts to be voiced. As with others who are party to Poirot's surmises, Bouc is keen to offer his own hypotheses of the case and Christie has employed an amount of humour with this. Bouc's declaration that he is not unhappy that Cassetti is dead, but that the Orient Express is not a suitable place for the murder is one such example, another being Bouc's fervent belief that the killer must be the Italians, Foscarelli as he thinks it is a "Latin crime" and that an Italian's weapon of choice would be a knife. The conversations between Poirot and Bouc help to break up the interrogation after interrogation that otherwise makes up a large part of the plot and also helps the reader to consider their own conclusions about the case.

      In conclusion, whilst "Murder on the Orient Express" is a highly enjoyable read - one which moves along at a good pace and has enough within it to hold our interest, it lacks the psychological impact of "And Then there Were None" or the powerful style of "The Murder of Roger Acroyd". Certainly it ranks amongst her better pieces, if only for the entertaining plot and the very satisfying conclusion, yet there is not enough depth to it to warrant fulsome praise.

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        05.09.2008 18:41

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        will you guess the ending?

        this is the perfect book for any Agatha Christie fans or anyone who wants to try one for the first time. i have read it hundreds of times and watch the film version several times and i always notice new clues or hints each time. admittadely there are a few aspects which are quite predictable but the language is so clever and the plot is so intricate when the answer seems so simple that you can't help but be impressed.

        the plot starts of as the orient express makes one of its busiest journeys of the year, with many interesting charactors onboard including Hercule Poirot. But when one american passenger is stabbed a dozen times in the chest and the train gets stuck in aq snow storm so the murder can't possibly escape tension begins to build in the train! it is up to poirot to solve the mystery...

        a thoroughly enjoyable read, one i would thoroughly recommend!

        thank you and please rate.

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        19.02.2006 11:47
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        Agatha Christie's most famous whodunit with a stunning denouement

        Agatha Christie, that great writer of detective novels, was enjoying huge success during the 1930s. Her books were both incredibly popular and critically acclaimed, and the author was riding on the crest of a wave, writing some of the best work of her career, including the first Miss Marple stories, The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) and The Thirteen Problems (1932). After finishing a collection of short stories about the supernatural, titled The Hound of Death (1933), Christie turned her attentions towards her next book.

        Christie was a frequent traveller at the time, journeying around Europe with her husband who was an archaeologist. She had seen the famous European sleeper train, the Orient Express, in France, Spain and Italy, and every time had wanted to climb inside, but had never travelled on board. It also had a certain romantic appeal, and Christie decided to make it the setting for her next novel.


        THE PLOT
        -----------

        The time: the mid-1930s. The place: Eastern Europe. After clearing up a military scandal in Aleppo, Syria, Hercule Poirot boards the Taurus Express to travel to Stamboul. While on board he encounters a young Englishwoman and a military type gentleman whose curious remarks and secretive meetings puzzle Poirot.

        After arrival at Stamboul and crossing the Bosphorus, Poirot receives a telegram summoning him back to London immediately. Thanks to his old friend Monsieur Bouc, a director of a train company, Poirot is able to get a last minute berth on the Simplon Orient Express to Calais. His two fellow passengers from Aleppo are amongst the many travellers on board.

        And then, at midnight, the train comes to a halt after encountering a snowdrift blocking the line. All seems peaceful - until the next morning, when Poirot rises to discover that one of the passengers has been brutally murdered, stabbed a dozen times over.... his door locked from the inside.

        Determined to discover the truth, the Belgian detective encounters passengers who are not all they seem to be... Can it be that one of them is a cold-blooded killer?


        THE REVIEW
        ---------------

        Murder on the Orient Express (also known as Murder on the Calais Coach) was originally published in 1934. It was the 19th published book by Agatha Christie and the ninth to feature Hercule Poirot.

        Orient Express is arguably Christie's most famous story, and probably the first book that leaps to our minds whenever Christie's name is mentioned. Read by many people around the world, and dramatised into a major Hollywood film, it is certainly thought of as one of the greatest whodunits.

        But does it live up to its classic status?

        I had read many Christie books by the time I reached this novel. For example, Peril at End House (1932) and The ABC Murders (1935), both published around the same time, were books I had enjoyed immensely. I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as her previous works. Why? Read on!

        Christie has divided the book into three parts: Part I - The Facts, Part II - The Evidence, Part III - Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks. Each Part is divided into about ten smaller chapters. In Part II, each chapter contains an interview with each suspect. Christie would often use different ways of structuring her novels and this is one of her rarer methods.

        There are thirteen suspects aboard the main carriage: Mrs Hubbard, a chatty middle-aged American lady; the gruff Colonel Arbuthnot; Ratchett's secretary, MacQueen; his valet, Masterman; a friendly Swedish missionary, Greta Ohlsson; the Hungarian Count Andrenyi and his wife; a flamboyant American, Mr Hardman; Foscarelli, a cheery Italian; a young English governess, Mary Debenham; a lady's maid, Miss Schmidt; the elderly Princess Dragomiroff; and the Wagon Lit conductor, Pierre Michel.

        The main problem I had with this story is that there were too many characters. Thirteen suspects is too many! For the reader to accept a person as a genuine suspect, each one needs to be fleshed out so as to make them more real and believable, and with only 230 pages to play with, it just doesn't work well enough. In Part II, while each suspect gets their own chapter, some of them hardly feature in the rest of the book, and there's a sense of unreality about it all. For example, the valet, Masterman, is interviewed for five pages and then disappears until the last 15 pages of the book! How can the reader take him seriously as a suspect? Ideally there should be no more than seven or eight suspects, which is the usual number in this author's works.

        Each suspect should then feature throughout the story, prominently enough so that they make an impression on the reader. The best example of this is Cards on the Table (1936) where there are four suspects only, and each one is written in sufficient depth to be a potential killer.

        Although this is a huge flaw and reduced my enjoyment of the book, it is the only weakness on display. Yes, the characters aren't real enough, but the plot is strong enough to hold the reader's interest.

        Once again, Christie uses the plot device of isolating the characters in one particular setting. In my last review (Death on the Nile), the suspects were confined to a river steamboat on the Nile. In this situation, the action is confined to two carriages of a train, the most claustrophobic setting Christie has ever created. In fact, Part II is set entirely within the restaurant car, to hold the interviews. By staying in one room for such a long time, the book could quickly become monotonous reading, but Christie avoids this trap, by concentrating our attention on the crime itself and the various ways it could have been committed. Her writing style helps, as there is little descriptive text and lots of exposition.

        Another useful Christie device is a diagram of the murder scene, and it is especially handy here. A map of the carriage is provided. This allows us to: a) see which compartment each passenger was in; and b) draw conclusions as to the likeliest suspects (amusingly, Poirot himself is the passenger closest to the victim's compartment).

        Of course, the main talking point about this book is the denouement and how clever it is. This is a characteristic of all good Christie novels, the ability to stun the reader with a completely unexpected solution, but this one is arguably the best she ever wrote (although The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) comes close). Obviously I won't reveal any details, but suffice to say Poirot gathers all the suspects into the restaurant car and propounds his solution in detail (in fact, two solutions - you'll have to read the book to understand what I mean) and it's jaw dropping! So much so, that it goes some way to making up for the character deficiencies I detailed earlier.

        Oddly, it is suggested that Poirot is comfortable with someone taking the law into their own hands if there is no legal way of bringing a criminal to justice. This is out of character for a man who has always made it clear that murder is murder, and he won't let you get away with it, whatever the reason for committing the crime! It's certainly something different, after so many books where he has the police on hand to arrest the murderer after Poirot has denounced him!

        This story actually takes place directly after Murder in Mesoptamia (1936), in which Poirot solved a double murder at an excavation site in Syria. The latter book was published two years later, which shows that Christie's books were not set in chronological order.


        EDITIONS
        ------------

        As this is one of her more popular books, you will find many editions available to purchase on Amazon. The edition displayed above is no longer in print. The latest UK edition to be published is the 'signatory' edition, which can be purchased for £5.59 (ISBN 0007119313, Harper Collins, 320 pages).

        I own an earlier edition published in the 90s (£4.99, ISBN 0006170064, Harper Collins). At 240 pages, this book is much slimmer than the signatory edition, which is probably twice the width. It is no longer available first hand, although there are plenty of copies to be found in Amazon Marketplace! Amazon UK is even selling a Spanish language version of the book.


        SCREEN ADAPTATIONS
        ---------------------------

        The best, and perhaps most famous, adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is the cinematic film directed by Sidney Lumet from 1974. It garnered six Oscar nominations. Albert Finney played Hercule Poirot in a superb performance (he's also unrecognisable thanks to a lot of makeup). The film also starred John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, and in an Oscar winning performance, Ingrid Bergman (she won for Best Supporting Actress). This was reportedly the only film adaptation of Christie's work that she was satisfied with.

        The film is available on DVD for £15.99 (with only one extra, the trailer). The video is deleted. Also worth mentioning is Richard Rodney Bennett's beautiful music score, which is available on CD (£8.99). His Orient Express theme as the train pulls out of the station is perhaps one of the most memorable themes in the history of cinema.

        David Suchet has yet to film this novel for the ongoing ITV Poirot series. However, there was a US TV movie made a few years ago, updating the novel to a contemporary setting and starring Alfred Molina as Hercule Poirot (You may not know the name but you'll know the face; he played Doctor Octopus in Spiderman II, amongst other roles). Molina is fine, but it's a poor adaptation and it didn't help giving Poirot a love interest!


        AUDIOBOOKS
        -----------------

        There are various audio adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. If you are interested in a full dramatisation, Radio 4's play on CD is the best option (£12.99, ISBN 0563478349). This is part of a series of BBC plays with a full cast. John Moffatt plays Hercule Poirot. For the old fashioned amongst us, you can buy a cassette version (£10.99, ISBN 0563406909).

        Murder on the Orient Express is also available as a CD audiobook, narrated by David Suchet. You can buy a complete and unabridged version (£11.21, ISBN 0007202075). The audio cassette release is unavailable. I warn you though, it's a long haul! For those who prefer an abridged version, this is also available, but only on cassette. Surprisingly, it's more expensive than the unabridged reading on CD (£13.99, ISBN 0007135750). You can also buy an abridged narration by Andrew Sachs, on CD (£7.25, ISBN 1405032731) and audio cassette (£7.19, ISBN 0333908473).


        To sum up, I enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express, but to a lesser degree than some of Agatha Christie’s other novels. Many people have seen the film and not read the book, in which case I couldn't recommend it. However, if you have heard of the book and are curious to see what all the fuss is about, then it's certainly worth a read.

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          18.01.2001 00:14

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          I’m sorry to say but this is one of the worst Agatha Christie books I’ve read. It’s the most predictable Poirot story I’ve read and I actually got bored in the middle. Everyone knows the basic plot. A man is murdered on the Orient Express, which unfortunately runs into a snowdrift, leaving the murderer trapped on the train. The murderer also didn’t account for Hecule Poirot being on the train. The idea behind the plot is fairly clever but the way it’s written makes it somewhat predictable. The ‘red herrings’ are so obvious and I felt I knew who the killer was almost from the beginning. The best bit would have to be the end, which instead of being the usual surprise and shock, was more heart-warming, with another side of Poirot being revealed. I wouldn’t rank this as one of the worst books I’ve ever read, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a book to encourage someone to read Christie’s books. It’s a shame that some of her other better books couldn’t be as famous.

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          30.11.2000 16:05

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          As I have said before I am great fan of Agatha Christie and have read many of her books. Murder on the orient express is very good story. Hercule Poirot the little Belgium egghead stars in this one. It all starts when Hercule Poirot has to get back to England as quickly as possible. And a friend gives up his sleeping carriage to him. Of course the murderer does not expect to have the worlds greatest detective on the train. They run in to a snowdrift. And that is when all the problems start. And a murder is discovered. I think that it is very good story and keeps you guessing to the end. I though the way the end was handled was not very good. It left a lot of questions for me any way. But over all a good read if you have a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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      • Product Details

        Hercule Poirot must solve a bizarre murder on a luxury train.