Over the course of the homeboundedness, I had a chance to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Let me start by saying that I love her Hercule Poirot mysteries. I devour them at every opportunity. I think it is strictly because of David Suchet, the English actor who played Poirot on A&E’s series of the same name. Side note: if you ever get a chance to listen to him read a Hercule Poirot mystery on an audio book, don’t pass it up. He does all of the voices for the story and he has an amazing ability to convey their various emotions orally.
The novel takes place on board a train called the Orient Express, which runs from Istanbul to Calais. The story unfolds, though, as the train is snowbound somewhere in Yugoslavia. A murder, naturally, is committed under very peculiar circumstances, also naturally. The story’s twists and turns are too numerous to mention here, as it is rather involved. The ending was surprising and unexpected, though plausible. All in all, it was a worthy read especially if you like mysteries (and haven’t read this one, Christie’s most famous).
Not a particularly insightful review, to be sure. The interesting aspect of reading Murder on the Orient Express was the act of reading it. Two things struck me as unusual and worthy of comment.
<ol><li>Christie inserted a jibe at the mystery genre. As she did in Death on the Nile, one of the characters points out a clue and Poirot is made to remark about how that would be a clue in a mystery novel and thus was obviously planted to throw him off the track. It was interesting because she is consciously pointing out a cliché of the genre and simultaneously saying that she wasn’t going to fail her readers by relying on such pabulum.</li>
<li>She had Poirot explain the method by which he arrived at his conclusions. At one point in the novel, Poirot and several investigators ponder the case while deep in thought. Poirot’s thoughts are hidden, while Christie focuses on the other investigators muddled and rambling thought process. Later on, at the climax of the book, she has Poirot give his amazing account of the crime and then proceed to let us in on what he was thinking about earlier. Admittedly, I haven’t read much detective fiction (Sherlock Holmes and a couple Hercule Poirot mysteries), but I haven’t encountered such an epistemological examination before. It makes me want to read some of her other works and see if this is a regular part of her plots. If it is, I’m sold!</li></ol>
I think I like mysteries for that very reason. They commonly lay all of the facts out before you, the reader, but they obscure the essential facts in a blizzard of noise and circumstance. The astute reader can usually get substantial parts of the puzzle correct, while the layman gets to witness an astute evaluator of facts solve it. I have a book that likens historians to detectives and I am becoming more and more convinced that that thesis is basically correct—except that the historian has a much harder task because more of the facts are obscured or even obliterated.