Wednesday 29 November 2017

#CBR9 Book 105: "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie

Page count: 274 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 37 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Internationally famous private detective Hercule Poirot is on his way back to England after solving a mystery in Syria. He decides to take the Orient Express for part of his journey, only to discover that despite the train normally being quite empty during the winter season, it's so fully booked in first class that he has to stay the first night in a second class cabin. Poirot is approached by one of the passengers, a Mr. Edward Ratchett, who claims he has many enemies and that his life is in danger. He wants to hire Poirot to protect him. The little Belgian detective turns him down.

The second night on the train, when Poirot has been moved into a first class cabin, there are several strange occurrences, and in the morning, the passengers discover that not only has the train stopped entirely, due to large amounts of snow on the tracks, but Edward Ratchett has been murdered during the night. No one could have got onto or off the train, so one of the passengers is the likely culprit. Poirot is tasked with identifying the murderer before the train starts up again and the guilty party can escape.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie's most famous crime novels. It's a wonderfully clever take on the "locked room" mystery and has been adapted into both film and TV more than once. I honestly can no longer remember if I read the book before watching the 1974 adaptation, starring Albert Finney along with a remarkably star-studded cast. I discovered Ms. Christie's mystery novels when I was around 11 or so, and proceeded to read my way through pretty much all the books I could get at my local library, first in Norwegian translation and later in the English originals. It turns out, by the way, that Agatha Christie's writing is not necessarily the easiest to get through when you're still learning English as a second language (it is, however, a great way to expand your growing vocabulary as long as you are diligent with a dictionary).

Fun fact - when asked to write an in-depth term paper on the topic of our choice in 9th grade (I will have been about 13), I ended up writing probably 40 pages on Agatha Christie - her life and literary career - and probably bored my fellow classmates, almost, but not as much, as the pretentious guy who chose Watergate as his subject. We also had to make a presentation on said term paper as well, and a nearly hour-long presentation about the intricacies of the Watergate scandal is not going to go down well with your average 13-year-old. Especially when most of the others wrote/talked about horses, their favourite sports, a pop group or similar. So while in my mind, they were much more interested in Agatha Christie than Nixon's corruption, hindsight forces me to admit that yeah, they were probably dead bored by my topic as well.

After giving you that charming insight into nerdy Malin's adolescence (I was just never going to fit in with the popular kids in school), back to the book review proper. I had considered re-reading this before the release of the new Kenneth Branagh adaptation currently in cinemas, and when a couple of my fellow Cannonballers revealed that the wonderful Dan Stevens narrated the book, I used one of my carefully hoarded Audible credits to get it right away. Not only do I find Dan Stevens extremely attractive (even when done up in CGI as the Beast), but he really does have a wonderful voice and I loved his narration of Frankenstein when I listened to that a few years ago. In this story, he has to voice a large number of characters of different ages and genders, and I generally think he did a very good job.

This is not a very long book, and if you have somehow been able to remain unspoiled for the solution to a mystery written in the mid-1930s, it's a really fun reveal once all the suspects have been carefully questioned and all the clues are examined. As the Branagh movie has gotten pretty middling reviews (I was somewhat sceptical after seeing Branagh's moustache in the promos), I doubt I'll actually spend my hard-earned pennies to see it in the cinema, but I'm glad I revisited the book.

Judging a book by its cover: I listened to this in audio book, so it's not like it strictly speaking has a cover, but the one that showed on the Audible website is this one, which seems to be one of the modern design covers for the book (at least it's not the movie tie-in version - shudder!) Is it strange that I think this could just as easily be a children's book cover? The train that magically made red balloons? It's more whimsical than suspenseful.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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