Thursday, July 21, 2011
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.