Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)

murder on the orient express original 1933 cover

Agatha Christie (1890—1976) was the most widely published and best-selling author of all time. She authored sixty-six crime novels and short story collections, fourteen plays, and six other romance novels. Murder on the Orient Express, an intricate crime fiction novel, is one of Christie’s greatest mystery novels featuring the illustrious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Murder on the Orient Express was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934, and soon after in the United States, retitled Murder on the Calais Coach. Christie drew inspiration for the plot from recent headlines.

Around the time when Murder on the Orient Express was published, the murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son had yet to be solved. This real-life mystery, coupled with Christie’s first journey on the Orient Express in 1928, inspired the iconic detective story.

Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in her room at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, near the southern end of the Orient Express railway. As a memorial to the famed author, the hotel has continued to maintain Christie’s room.

 

A brief introduction

Here’s a brief introduction to the book from the 1960 Dodd, Mead edition, by which time it was retitled Murder on the Orient Express to match the classic U.K. edition. Link here to a complete plot summary.

Thundering along on its three-day journey across Europe, the famous Orient Express suddenly came to a stop in the night. Snowdrifts blocked the line. Surrounded by the silent Balkan hills, the passengers slept unheeding.

But Hercule Poirot had not slept well. He awoke in the small hours, wondering at the silence and immobility of the train. He was startled by a loud groan which seemed to come from the next compartment. Footsteps sounded in the corridor, and there was a tap on a door.

Then someone said, It was nothing, a mistake. Poirot heard no more, and after a while dozed off uneasily. But in the morning the man in the next compartment lay dead — stabbed, viciously and frenziedly, over and over again. And since the snow outside was unbroken, the murderer was still on the train.

Thus begins one of the incomparable Christie’s most memorable suspense masterpieces — a mystery baffler considered by many connoisseurs to be her finest. Mistress of the surprise ending, the Queen of Crime” has never offered a more astonishing (and as always, completely logical) solution to a murder puzzle.

The basis of a record-breaking, all-star motion picture, Murder on the Orient Express continues to thrill audiences everywhere who agree that an intriguing mystery is the ultimate in entertainment.

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Original 1933–1934 reviews

Considering that Murder on the Orient Express, as it came to be known, is one of Christie’s best-known Poirot novels, it received modest attention, and reviews, on both sides of the Atlantic. Here are two reviews from American newspapers from 1933, the year it was first published in the U.S.

Agatha Christie’s Latest Thriller

From The Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1933: “Agatha Christie’s latest thriller, The Murder in the Calais Coach, deals with the murder of a kidnapper on the Orient Express, the murder being done by twelve persons variously associated with the family of the child who had been kidnapped and murdered.

That Miss Christie and her famous French detective seem to accept this murder as an approximation of justice, and its provocation as reason enough for the detective to advance a fake solution to the authorities, makes it plain that this English authoress thinks that it would be bad form in a story for American readers to apprehend the avengers of a kidnapping.

And the participation of twelve murderers, being a sort of lethal approximation of the jury system, salves the conscience of an English writer opposed to lynch law.”

Agatha Christie Writes Another Poirot Thriller

From The Sacramento Bee, February 24, 1934: M. Hercule Pierot, the famous Belgian detective, finds himself confronted with the most puzzling crime of his long career when the body of an American is found stabbed to death in the sleeping coach of the Stamboul-Paris express. As the train has been stalled in a snowbank in the mountains of Yugoslavia, it has been impossible for the killer or killers to have escaped from the train.

Moreover, the murder is given a greater significance when it is discovered that the victim is a notorious kidnapper, head of a gang which has committed a crime as brutal as the Lindbergh baby case.

Thus does the curtain go up on the Murder in the Calais Coach. It becomes even more mystifying as the investigation proceeds. For everyone in the coach appears to have an air-tight alibi, and yet one or more of them must’ve done the killing.”

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Film adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express film poster 1974

1974 Film Adaptation: The first adaptation of Christie’s novel, directed by Sidney Lumet, was released in 1974. A critical and audience hit, it starred Albert Finney as Poirot and Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson. Sean Connery and Lauren Bacall were featured as well. The film won nine Academy Awards, including Ingrid Bergman’s for Best Supporting. The film was financially successful as well, earning a total of $35 million at the box office.

The film earned an approval rating of 90% based on 39 reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, receiving an average rating of 7/10. The website’s critics consensus says that the “production of Murder on the Orient Express is one of the best Agatha Christie film adaptations to see the silver screen”.

Murder on the Orient Express was remade into a slightly altered version for TV in 2001, with Alfred Molina starring as Poirot. Agatha Christie, who died fourteen months after the 1974 film was released, said that this film was one of the only movie adaptations of her books that she liked.

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Murder on the Orient Express 2017 film

2017 Film Adaptation: The 20th Century Fox 2017 feature film version of Murder on the Orient Express was the fourth screen adaptation of Christie’s novel. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, he also starred as Poirot, with supporting cast members Penelope Cruz, Tom Bateman, and Johnny Depp.

The film was nominated for eighteen movie awards including several Critic’s Choice Awards and Teen Choice Awards and did quite well at the box office, earning a worldwide gross of $350 million. The film earned an approval rating of 60% based on 295 reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, receiving an average rating of 6/10. 

You can stream the 1974 film*and the 2017 film on Amazon*.

A film adaptation of Death on the Nile, another Poirot mystery, is being positioned as a sequel to the 2017 film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, though it has a different (and diverse) all-star cast. The filming of Death on the Nile underwent several delays in production but is to be released on February 11, 2022. The new film is expected to spur an interest in Christie’s novel as well as other previous film adaptations. 

 

Quotes from Murder on the Orient Express

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

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“The body—the cage—is everything of the most respectable—but through the bars, the wild animal looks out.”

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“I like to see an angry Englishman,” said Poirot. “They are very amusing. The more emotional they feel the less command they have of language.”

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“Because, you see, if the man were an invention—a fabrication—how much easier to make him disappear!”

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“What’s wrong with my proposition?” Poirot rose. “If you will forgive me for being personal—I do not like your face.”

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“I have learned to save myself useless emotion.”

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“I believe, Messieurs, in loyalty—to one’s friends and one’s family and one’s caste.”

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“The happiness of one man and one woman is the greatest thing in all the world.”

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Agatha Christie books

Agatha Christie books on Bookshop.org*
Agatha Christie page on Amazon*
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One Response to “Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)”

  1. Poirot finds several more clues in the victim’s cabin and on board the train, including a woman’s linen handkerchief embroidered with the initial “H”, a pipe cleaner , and a button from a conductor’s uniform. All of these clues suggest that the murderer or murderers were somewhat sloppy. However, each clue seemingly points to different suspects, which suggests that some of the clues were planted.

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