Confession time: this is my first Agatha Christie. Yup. I’m almost 30 and reading is my self-professed favorite way to spend time, but I have never read the Queen of Mystery before. It took this most recent screen adaptation to get me to pick one up. I’m a little embarrassed, BUT better late than never, I suppose. And to be fair, mysteries are not really my cup of tea – I much prefer other genres. So, it’s not like I have been reading mysteries by everyone other than Agatha Christie. Regardless, I got here eventually and that’s what matters (or, at least that’s what I’m telling myself).
This book is one of an entire set that follows detective/inspector Hercule Poirot. I do not think they need to be read in order, and truthfully, I had no problem getting into and following this particular installment without any prior experience with the character. Poirot is on the titular Orient Express after finishing up with a prior case and en route to another. But, when a murder is committed in the train car he’s on, and the train is stuck for days due to a snowstorm, he is impressed upon to put his mind to the task of solving the crime.
From what I can tell, this is a very formulaic mystery novel. Soon after meeting all the characters and getting acquainted with the setting, but before we get too comfortable with anything, the murder is committed. We are then presented with the physical and remembered evidence. Over time, theories are presented and shot down, lies are uncovered and, in the end, a final pronouncement of Poirot’s suspicions is made. However, since the train is stuck between stations, there are a few things that make this a little out of the ordinary, as far as solving crimes goes. First, there is no assistance from actual law enforcement or real labs/autopsies. The information Poirot is able to gather towards solving the case is very basic – a ranged time of death from an onboard doctor, a few small pieces of evidence and, primarily, the testimonies of the crew and passengers of that particular train car. So, this is one of those mysteries that is solved Sherlock Holmes style: using a lot of psychology, intuition, and deductive reasoning. Second, there is the chance for things to be resolved and decisions on how to handle it made before anyone from the “outside” arrives…which makes for a lovely little twist at the end.
This limited setting combined with that “twist” ending, if you will, is (in my opinion) likely what makes this particular novel one that is so often adapted onto the stage/screen. It adds a bit of controversy and judgement, a chance to discuss and debate, to what is (or would be) an otherwise straightforward murder mystery. And I am for sure planning to watch this newest movie version to see how the story and characters are adapted. I’m also excited to see how the ending is treated, regarding the consensus of the passengers on how to handle the guilty party, and how conclusive or controversial they decide to make it.
As a general reading experience, I did appreciate and enjoy this book. Christie’s grasp of all the little details that seem unimportant to start, but later change the shape and direction of the story in major ways, is impressive. It is clear that she has masterful control over the minutiae and development of the story, particularly in how/when certain clues and suspicions are revealed to the reader. Pacing-wise, this could not have been better. As with all mysteries, the focus is plot over characters, so I definitely found myself confusing certain ones or forgetting things about them, in my rush to see what happens next and subsequent skimming of certain passages and details. Though that fault is, I suppose, more with me as a reader than Christie as the author.
I definitely found myself enjoying the read and wanting to see what would happen, how the mystery would conclude. I liked how everything came together and I like that I was left thinking a little at the end. Overall, this was a positive first Agatha Christie experience for me! I am happy to say I have finally read her and was not disappointed by the experience. I may pick up another in the future (I think they might make nice one-off palate cleanser books for me), but I don’t think I’ve been converted to the genre.