Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Trip Through a Classic: Murder on the Orient Express

As a big-time thriller fan, I find it refreshing from time to time to indulge in a classic murder mystery. Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is certainly one of the most read of all time. Since I have an obsession for train travel anyway, and, frankly, felt a bit embarrassed never to have read this book, it seemed like a good idea. And what a fun adventure it was.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was the structure - so different from the thriller structure to which I am much more accustomed. Instead of leaping from scene to scene and character to character, Orient Express strolls along at a downright leisurely pace, following the perfectly ordered logic of M. Poirot, who never allows either characters nor plot twists to get ahead of themselves. The novel is literally organized into three sections (no spoilers here - there's a table of contents) in which 1) Characters are introduced and crime is committed 2) The evidence of every character is presented in turn, and 3) Poirot solves the case in a supremely logical fashion. It's quite fascinating to watch it all develop so cleanly.

In the first couple of chapters, I found myself consulting my old, battered globe to follow the precise train paths through the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Of course, a few chapters in, we become snowbound (again, no spoilers - it's on the back cover) and then, the adventure begins.

Something else that amused me was the blatant stereotyping central to a novel first published in 1934. While it might have gone over by today's author like a lead balloon, Christie's use of such "evidence" as "Italians use knives! The English are too proper!" is both hilarious and ultimately ironic when one reaches the climax of the story.

Overall, a delightful story which I would highly recommend. It would have been a one-sitting read for me, and I'm slow, if I had had the luxury of sitting long enough to read it all at once. As it turned out, with a busy schedule of real life, it took me a few days. To my snowbound friends (which means, almost everyone in the world right now except for me,) do yourself a favor and pick it up before the snow melts. Murder on the Orient Express pairs perfectly it with a cup of hot chocolate and a fire in the fireplace.