Miss Marple Got Competition

I mentioned before how much I enjoy listening to Agatha Christie’s mysteries while I’m driving to and from work. So far, it’s all been Miss Marple, but last week, I chose Hercule Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express. As can be expected from Christie, the mystery was smart and entertaining. Other than a bloody knife—and the victim’s body, of course—there was no gore, no sick tampering with the corpse, and no follow-up murders. It was as clean a murder as you could want, and my stomach thanks you, Agatha Christie.

What I did get was lots of Hercule Poirot. With Miss Marple, I sometimes regret that she slips into the background and isn’t seen for lengthy periods of time, but here, Monsieur Poirot was always front and center. Good thing he doesn’t mind that no matter where he goes, whether it’s on business or on vacation, there always seems to be a murder happening. This one takes place while he travels from Syria back to Europe, right when the train gets stuck in a giant snow storm. Of course that means that the murderer must still be on the train, although all the passengers who could be suspected have a firm alibi. On the surface, this seems to be an almost impossible crime to solve.

As Poirot is a firm believer in the psychology behind a crime, the focus is always on his interactions with potential suspects and his observations of their statements, behavior, idiosyncrasies. (I was struck by how much he reminded me of Columbo in this respect.) While Poirot investigates, he is accompanied by the director of the train company and a doctor, both of whom can’t figure out how it might all fit together to make sense. Their questions for Poirot, and their clumsy attempts at pointing fingers at this passenger or that one, are a clever way of having Poirot explain what he’s thinking and where he finds weak points in the testimonies. Of course there are lots of red herrings, and so it’s no surprise that I was wrong in my guesses of whodunit all along. I was convinced that the murderer had climbed out the window and onto the roof of the train, where no one would be able to see the footprints in the snow. Nope, that’s not what happened at all!

Perhaps I found the solution to the crime just a tad far-fetched, but that’s almost beside the point. Any slight misgivings I might have had with the plot were far outweighed by the great narration. I had borrowed the Harper Collins edition narrated by Dan Stevens, and it was superb. He had a great way of giving each character his or her own voice and accent without them sounding exaggerated or ridiculous. In a story that relies heavily on dialog and the way certain things are said, he was able to convey seemingly without effort all that was said without words in this story. I see that he has also narrated The Illiad and The Odyssey. I’m almost tempted to pick those up next…

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20 comments

  1. I read this as a teenager one summer when I found a Christie ombnibus in the holiday cottage were in. I have a terrible memory for plots etc but I remember this so clearly! As you say, the ending is a bit bonkers but its so well done – I didn’t guess it either.

    • I read lots of Christie mysteries as a teenager as well, but I remember little, other than the “exotic” settings. I want to read/listen to Death on the Nile next. I remember I liked that one best, but I don’t remember what happened. In this case, a bad memory is not a bad thing… 🙂

  2. I was here yesterday, but in the middle of leaving my comment I got interupted… for several hours. And then my husband took the computer. But I’m back!

    My daughter has been talking about reading an Agatha Christie book lately. Do you think there are any in particular that are better for younger readers (age 16)?

    I’ve been checking out the audiobooks at the library, but I’m not very happy with the selection. There are very few that I would actually want to listen to. I wonder if it’s just becuse the good ones are out. A quick search tells me that we have two of Agatha’s. Well, better than none I guess. Maybe I’ll give one a try and see how it goes!

    • I had a hard time getting into audio books. I was almost forced into it when I started commuting without the kids in the car. Since I hardly get any radio reception, audios were the only option. I have gotten used to them now and can appreciate them more. A year ago, a narrator doing different accents and voices would have probably driven me crazy. Does your library offer Hoopla? That service has a large selection of audios (plus ebooks, movies, and comics), and it’s worth browsing the catalog for something that might ease you into audios.
      As for your daughter… I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was her age, maybe even a little younger. You would definitely not have to worry about anything inappropriate or particularly gruesome with any of her books. If she doesn’t mind that there’s little action, just a lot of talking and thinking, then she should give the books a try by all means. (I have to point out that there are some stereotypes that are a bit outdated, like “all women are overly emotional” or “all Italians are hot-headed.”) I think as a teenager, I liked Poirot better because of the “exotic” settings. Death on the Nile was my favorite. Let me know how she likes Christie, if she decides to give her a try.

  3. My theory has always been that Poirot is actually a psychopathic serial killer who commits all the murders himself and then frames innocent people for the crimes – it’s the only way to explain why he’s surrounded by murder victims everywhere he goes! I must try Dan Stevens as a narrator sometime – he’s also done a version of Frankenstein, btw!

  4. I can imagine Dan Stevens doing a great job with something like this – very easy on the ear. Funnily enough, I’ve never read this one, but I do know the gist of the story from the film. The new adaptation looks very interesting too, packed full of famous faces. I’m looking forward to seeing how Kenneth Branagh shapes up in the role of Poirot…

    • Now I am glad I didn’t give away anything solution-related. You knowing that the murderer did not escape through the window won’t spoil the story for you. I just saw a preview of the movie yesterday, and at least from the quick view I got of the characters, they all seem to fit. Are you planning to see the movie?

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