Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cool Down with AC - Murder on the Orient Express Discussion

Summary: Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer. 

Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man's enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again. -- Harper

It's time again for another Cool Down with Agatha Christie readalong! This week, I am hosting a discussion of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie. I first read this book when I was just a tween (and I don't even think that term was coined yet!) While I remembered that I enjoyed the novel, I didn't remember much about it. In fact, I didn't even remember who was responsible for the murder! So when I picked up MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS a few days ago, it was kind of like reading it for the first time.

It goes without saying that MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is one of the most well-known mysteries of all time. It has been made into a radio show, a graphic novel, and a PC game; and there were also many film versions of the story  -- most recently on PBS starring David Suchet. There is definitely a reason for this popularity. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is just an outstanding mystery. I know I enjoyed the story the first time I read it, but I'm not sure I appreciated just how good this book (and Agatha Christie) was until now.

I'm curious to hear what you all think of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, but first, I'd like to share a few of my thoughts. I think what personally amazed me the most about this novel was how caught up I became in the story. (I'm having a hard time articulating my thoughts about this, though!) I think the draw of these books is Ms. Christie's storytelling abilities. Often times when I read a mystery, I don't even try to figure out the whodunit or the why behind the murder -- I just sit back and read to enjoy. However, when I read a book by Ms. Christie (and especially MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS), I am constantly trying to solve the mystery -- and of course, I never do! I have thought about this quite a bit, and I think what I've discovered is that Ms. Christie does an amazing job of pulling me in with her detective characters. I find that I hang on Mr. Poirot's every word! Is is just me?

Another thing that I was impressed by in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was the character development. I think much thought and discussion could be generated around the various characters and their actions. All of them were certainly suspects, and they were also very complex and very interesting -- and much deeper than they first appeared. I was especially impressed with how all of the characters were tied to the crime. I'm guessing that Ms. Christie must have had some very detailed background notes about each of her characters!

Finally, I was surprised by the amount of social commentary in the novel. I definitely wasn't expecting that! I found many interesting (and discussion worthy) topics within the pages of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS -- and they went way beyond just murder. Some of the deeper issues that I found interesting were the differences in social classes and how they were portrayed in the story, the preconceived notions about certain ethnicities (aka prejudices), the definition of justice, and certain ethical and moral implications. I admit that I was blown away by the many serious (and still relevant) issues this book brought to light.

Prior to writing this review and coming up with some discussion questions, I learned a few things about MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS which I found interesting. First of all, it was published in 1934 -- that's 77 years ago! Based on how much I enjoyed the story, I'd have to say that it definitely stands the test of time. And while I did find some of the characters' comments to be very stereotypical (and even a bit prejudiced), I still thought this story and the presentation of the mystery to be rather relevant. Secondly, Ms. Christie was inspired by her own trips on the Orient Express. On one trip in 1931, Ms. Christie was actually stranded by bad weather conditions. And lastly, Ms. Christie wrote this story shortly after the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. I think it's pretty apparent to any reader even somewhat familiar with this story that the plight of the Lindbergh family inspired Ms. Christie's character development.

Now it's your turn. You can answer as many or as few of these questions as you like. Or, you can bring up some ideas of your own!

1) Once again, Agatha Christie managed to shock me with all of the twists and turns in this novel. Not only was I surprised by whodunit, but I was also shocked with how the story ended. Were you surprised by the outcome? What did you think about the "choice" that was made at the book's end?

2) A friend of mine mentioned that she didn't think this novel was exactly "politically correct" by today's standards. Did you have a similar reaction to some of the characters' statements about their train companions? Do you think an author could "get away" with comments like that today?

3) I was happy to find that MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS still had some humor despite being a bit dark in places. Were there any characters that you found to be comedic?

4) What, if anything, do you think MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS said about society's morals? Were there any ideas about the concept of law and justice?

Five participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a copy of my next readalong book THE A.B.C. MURDERS and a surprise AC gift! So remember, when you leave your comment, please leave an email address!

In addition, I will be giving away three additional copies of THE A.B.C MURDERS for those of you who are interested in participating in the discussion on August 18th. Just fill out the form below before July 28th. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. You don't have to have a blog to participate in the readalong!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


Beth Kephart said...

One of my son's all-time favorite books. You make me want to go back and read it.

Anonymous said...

I recently watched the Peter Ustinov version of film which was beautiful and classy. I still remember how shocked I was at the denouement when I read it as a tween too:) Christie's plotting is still one of the best in the genre and even though there are bits that are dated, it translates pretty well into the modern era. In fact, I'm often shocked at how modern they are!

bermudaonion said...

I was surprised by the outcome and I thought they made the correct choice at the end of the book, because I'm not sure there was enough evidence to prosecute anyone.

The prejudicial statements made about "the Italian" surprised me too - I figured it was an element of the time and/or the place.

rossjenc said...

I really enjoyed this book. There was so much charm and the surprising complexity of the story was fun to discover and engage my brain with.
I was very surprised at the ending. At first, I was frustrated to discover that all of the passengers were connected and thought the ending took away from so much of what I loved about the book. However, as I heard their story it all made sense and it was very feasible. I also like how Poirot had two scenarios he engaged the passengers with and I was pleased to hear how it was presented to the world.

I really liked the frankness of the characters. I suppose it could be considered not pc but it added to the depth of the story, the mystery itself, and I liked how refreshing it was to
hear the honesty of each perspective. I don't think
anything was more than mildly offensive. It reminded me of comments you may hear from a colorful elderly person.

My two favorite characters were Poirot mostly because he is so unassuming and that is a rare trait. Plus, his ingenious detective skills were impressive and I liked how he could look at the whole perspective of the case in determining how the solution should be presented.

I also loved Mrs. Hubbard! She made me laugh. Her drama and hysterics were done well! I think her character was written so well that you can easily imagine everything about her in a modern day story.

I also liked how Christie captured the accents of the different people. I think it added a lot of charm and flavor to the story.

Thanks for selecting me as a winner! I read a profile of Agatha Christie last year in The New Yorkers and ever since she has been on my list to read. It was a fun read and I will definitely pick up more of her work.

Jennifer Lowe said...

This is actually my favorite AC and the first one I remember reading. I was completely shocked at the ending.
AC was a member of the Detection Club, a group of mystery authors in London. The group came up with a list of "rules" of fair play. AC came into some trouble over this book (although more so for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), because other authors did not feel that she was being fair. I think she was just being creative. She also set a precedent that other authors continue to follow today. The murderer is often who you least suspect. Or all of the suspects. Or none of the suspects.

In my opinion, what bothers today's readers about the prejudicial statements made in books of this era is the freedom and apparent ease with which they are made. I don't think we can honestly say that no one is making similar comments today, but it is done with a different attitude. Thankfully.

This is a book that I love to re-read. Knowing the ending, I try to watch all of the threads come together and try to see all of the clues that Poirot does. This one will always be a classic.

traveler said...

Agatha Christie's book Murder on the Orient Express is such a classic that can be read throughout the years with enjoyment and fascination. The author was unique and has this ability to shock and surprise the reader. Yes, the ending was unexpected but great.

S (Book Purring) said...

I also read this one in my tweens, this one was a re-read for me, I actually did remembered the murdered because I saw the Albert Finney movie recently though not so much because I remembered the story. I think reading a lot of Agatha makes you confuse the mysteries too!

Yes I was surprised, it was exhaustive suspecting everyone but I just never thought they were all in it together! In terms of fiction, I approve of Poirot's choice I think it's the most dramatic too.

I'm not sure about the statements, I don't think I picked up on that. I know there's a politically incorrect title for one of her books that has changed title. It's the era I suppose. Regarding the plot, no, it probably wouldn't be accepted today, but then again a lot of the situations that happen in these books wouldn't either. Poirot sticking his nose in everyone's business to start with. People would get the cops etc etc.

I think my favorite moment is when Poirot finds the silk kimono in his things. It was like Whhhhaaat? LOL :D

Basically this is a group of people taking justice in their own hands. Ehhm well, I think there's justice of some form, but I take it as fiction, and entertainment, nothing else.

Julie P. said...

All of your comments are absolutely wonderful! I love hearing what everyone is saying about the book.

Please remember to add your email address or another way to contact you because 5 of you will win an Agatha Christie prize pack!

Raejean said...

I was totally caught up in the story. I decided part way into the book one of the female suspects was the sister of Mrs. Armstrong. That's about as far as my deductive reasoning got me.

As for the end of the story, I'm glad it's just fiction and I don't have to decide in real life who should have been served, justice or mercy.

The comments about Italians made me smile even though I didn't consider the political correctness of the statements. I met a Spanish man close to 20 years ago, who wanted to keep space between us because my Grandma is Sicilian. It's just people's perceptions.

I not only appreciated Poirot's humor, I think it helped him from getting wrapped up in the drama so he noticed all those details the rest of us missed.

Thanks for hosting the contest for the book and giving me an excuse to read it in a timely manner.

Raejean said...

P.S. My email address is qualityhighschoo gmail com

Anonymous said...

This was a re-read for me too, but the only part I actually remember was the solution. This time the characters really struck. They're were a lot, but each is very distinct, is more than just another suspect.

I think most of what we wouldn't consider so politically correct is due to the time period she was writing. For me, it actually adds to the story, you really do feel transported to a different time.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to leave my e-mail address.

carolsnotebook at gmail dot com

Unknown said...

This is an excellent example of what Christie is truly able to do with a mystery...she can weave a story, with intricate characters...leading to a suspenseful climax. I remember being a kid and reading it...not being able to even come close to deciding "whodunit"...and then the ending came. I was SHOCKED. A great story. I don't think it is offensive or not politically correct. Justice was served...and after all, it is fiction.

rossjenc said...

I forgot to leave my email address but I also entered on the home page. It's:

Also, did anyone think of the recent Anthony case at all after Mrs. Hubbard told their story?

bermudaonion said...

I'm not sure that I would say that I was frustrated that all of the characters were connected, but I was baffled as to how Poirot figured that out.

I did talk to my mother about this book as I read it and she said she loved Agatha Christie's work when she was growing up and at the time, it was unusual for a woman to be writing mysteries.

S said...

An amazing story, the non-pc descriptions and comments of characters were part and parcel of the times. Deleting those things defaces the work of authors, and I hope it stops. It changes the work.
I loved the fact that the story took place in such a small space, it was being in such close proximity that I felt really pushed the tension over the top. To know the person next door to you, or in the dining car, etc. in such cramped quarters could come for you it!

Anonymous said...

Oh! I'm taking this one on vacation with me, this weekend so I'm only skimming the discussion but I'm glad to be reading it!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I have read good reviews on this one... maybe this is the one I should start with for my adventure into Christy.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This was my first Agatha Christie - I mean, NOW, not when I was a tween (admitting that it took me 40-something years to read AC).

Some parts might be considered not politically-correct by today's standards, but really - what is?! It's a product of its time, and a reflection of society at the time it was written, I have no problem with that.

I did find Mrs. Hubbard to be quite a caricature! All her talk about "my daughter this and my daughter that" - ay, ay, ay!

I loved how Poirot remained level-headed and then just *thought* about all the evidence! I want to see the film next, then on to another cool AC mystery.

Ruth said...

I read this book as a teenager in high school. Agatha Christie has always been one of my favorite mystery authors, and indeed, this novel has stood the test of time. I absolutely love Hercule Poirot! I remember when i finally took the plunge and read "Curtain" his final case. I won't tell you what happens, but I didn't want to read it because I knew it was his last and had heard what happened. But I digress.

As to the outcome, I can remember that my struggle was trying to figure out "who done it." It seemed like everyone had a motive. When the conclusion was reached, I was actually pretty proud of myself because I was closer to figuring it out than I realized!

This is my favorite Christie book. I only read it once as a teen, and I still remember it quite well. I have never seen a movie version that actually seemed to follow the story like I wanted it to.

I can't say I agree with vigilante justice--I can remember feeling like that as a teen, but what can you do? What could Poirot do?

Politically correctness? Agatha Christie lived before that time, so why would her book be politically correct. Why can't we enjoy a book for what it is! These might be the same kinds of people who object to Mark Twain's prejudicial statements in his books. I am sick and tired of that. And if it comes to stereotypes, Poirot suffers from it just like the others. He was a Belgian detective, and he was not viewed as an equal amongst the British.

Chrisbookarama said...

I watched the Masterpiece Theatre version a couple of months ago so I knew how it would turn out. However, in the movie Poirot is indignant that they are laughing at him and 'playing God.' And the murderers are more torn by what they have done. It was much more dramatic than the book.

The book is a product of its time so I wouldn't say it's politically incorrect. I think it could be written in modern times in this way still if the readers keep the time and place in mind. Those were the attitudes of the time, right or wrong.

I laughed at some of the stereotypes. "The English are too cold. They don't do the stab." "The Italians do the stab." "Women are crazy. They do the stab."

I think they made the right choice at the end.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Chris' comments on the Masterpiece Theater version are interesting -- makes me even more interested in tracking down a film adaptation.

Anonymous said...

I just finished the novel today and I must say the end truly surprised me.
I think Poirot made the best choice in the end of the book, but I think if the story was set in the 21 century, his decision would be much criticized. I agree with his decision but I can see why others disagree.
What I love in this book, and in the others written by Christie, is the picturesque factor. All the characters, with their peculiar manners and the settings, are just fantastic.

Kaylie White said...

I caught the recent Masterpiece movie as well. This is actually the first book I read during this challenge where I saw the movie before reading the book since the movie aired prior to the start of the challenge. I actually liked the movie very much and found it much truer to the book than some of the other recent adaptions, for example The Pale Horse where they added Marple to the movie and she wasn't even in the book. I really wanted to read this book as it was listed as one of the top ten favorites of the author herself. Endless Night, another one of her favorites was one of mine as well. This was my favorite Poirot so far. I am very familiar with the Lindberg kidnapping and although their baby died as did young Daisy did in the book, their family had a more fortunate outcome than the Armstrongs. The Lindberg kidnapper also had his fate dealt with in court so there was no need for vigilante justice. As the case was laid out in the book, I believe that the proper justice was administered. Life is not like a fiction book though. Unless you actually witness a murder, you can only look at the facts presented. Humans can make errors and can only interpret the evidence presented. Once you inflict capital punishment you can't take it back if new evidence is presented. I did think of the recent Casey Anthony case while reading this book because I live in Florida. The evidence was presented in court and while most people feel she is guilty the jury decided that there was not enough evidence presented. I know a lot of people would like to do something similar to her in the manner of the characters of the book but that is not how the justice system works. While the ending fit the book , I don't think it would be a real life scenario. In any case I did enjoy the book and feel the twist of having twelve murderers out to avenge the death of an innocent child made for a fascinating mystery.

wife, mother, sister, friend said...

I'm late (again) to the discussion, but I really love this book.

I love all the twists and turns Christie wove into the story. I love the way Poirot is able to put all the clues, clues only he sees at times, together to come up with the 'impossible'. Amazing!