“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
~ Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
I first encountered this book in a Swiss airport a few years ago, while we were waiting for our flight. There was a book kiosk near the disagreeable seating area, and instead of staring out of the window into the vastness of the tarmac, I decided to go hunt around the novels, and see if there was anything to my fancy. The book I found was Murder on the Orient Express.
This novel revolves around the murder of a passenger on the opulent Istanbul-to-Calais express. The passenger is found in his room, stabbed twelve times and with his compartment door locked from the inside. After the train is rooted into place, thanks to a snow drift, all the travelers, including a count and countess, a tutor, and a businessman, are left in a railway car with a murderer. The only one deemed capable of help is, “a ridiculous-looking little man. The sort of little man one could never take seriously.” It is the renowned sleuth Hercule Poirot’s enterprise to solve this case.
Agatha Christie was author of more than seventy-eight books and best selling novelist of all time, coming in third after Shakespeare and the Bible. When Murder on the Orient Express first appeared in print in 1934, it was titled Murder on the Calais Coach. Christie got her inspiration for this mystery when she heard about the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., the infant son of a famed aviator. The case was only solved after a mayhem of media, and dubbed the “Crime of the Century.”
Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most well-loved mysteries in history. There are two main categories of mystery: a Locked Room mystery, a story where a crime was committed under seemingly impossible circumstances and how it happened, and a Whodunit mystery, a complex and plot-driven story with the ultimate question being “who committed the crime”? Murder on the Orient Express falls into the Whodunit category. There are also a set of “Ten Commandments” (penned by Ronald Knox) for mystery writing that include rules such as:
- The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
- All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
- Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
Although Christie did recognize these “rules” she would sometimes break them as she saw fit.
Christie was in her own mystery when she supposedly disappeared in December of 1926 only to be discovered later as having stayed at a Harrogate hotel under the assumed name Mrs. Teresa Neele. It was eventually decided by the press that she used Teresa because it was an anagram of “teaser,” and Neele because it was the maiden name of her former husband’s second wife.
The novel lies next to my laptop as I write this, slightly battered yet still smelling of factory glue, two years old, and having been to many a book club meeting, but the tale it tells never grows old.
Photo Credit: “12 Things You Didn’t Know About Murder on the Orient Express,” The Home of Agatha Christie. https://www.agathachristie.com/news/2020/12-things-you-didnt-know-about-murder-on-the-orient-express