Murder on the Orient Express: a book review before seeing the movie


Source: Kyler Russell

Bethany Boggs

Anyone who has visited a movie theater since June has likely seen the trailer for Murder on the Orient Express, a period piece with a star-studded cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. The film is based on Agatha Christie’s mystery novel, published in 1934. Director Kenneth Branaugh appears on-screen as Hercule Poirot, Christie’s famous detective, in a film adaptation of her most famous novel.

Anyone who wishes to see the film without knowing the progression of Poirot’s mind, Christie’s pace or the outcome of the mystery will miss marking the stylistic decisions of the movie or the portrayals of the iconic passengers on the Orient Express. It’s also an enjoyable read that can be done in a couple of hours, even the day before seeing the movie.

The novel is part of a series starring the famous detective Hercule Poirot, and this book is the tenth in an installment of 38 mysteries. The book opens with a nod to the last case solved in the ninth book and follows the plot. However, it is unnecessary to have read the prior cases solved by Poirot in order to understand the film. With several shady characters introduced right off the bat, the suspects for a crime are immediately intriguing. By the time the crime is committed, there are at least three suspects.

Christie is known for her cases’ creativity, and this one has been recognized as one of her finer works. Our detective is traveling west to Europe from Siberia on a sleeper train with 13 other passengers. While the train is stranded in the Siberian mountains, a murder takes place in the middle of the night. It is immediately apparent that one of the passengers  committed the crime, since no one could have boarded or exited the stranded, snowed-in train. Suspicion and constantly changing alibis ensue.

Poirot is known for collecting evidence and interviewing his suspects immediately, sitting in a comfortable chair and thinking over what he knows immediately after. In most of the mysteries, he effectively solves the case in a matter of hours. This train ride and murder is no different. It makes for an amusing and methodical plot arc. As most cases cannot be solved this simplistic way, it also calls for suspended disbelief.

Poirot is highly intelligent and collects evidence in unconventional ways. Poirot’s rapid thoughts are tempered by his two friends on the train, a doctor and an operator of the travel company who are not under investigation. They merely serve as intermediaries between Poirot’s processes and the reader’s understanding. It was a wise choice for Christie to make and causes a smoother ride for the reader. The novel remains suspenseful, as Poirot divulges that he has solved the case two-thirds through the novel, but continues to ask questions and give the reader a chance to catch up.

The novel’s plot arc is as tidy as Poirot’s process of deduction. The novel is tied up well, but leaves room for moral consideration. A stunningly written mystery novel, it is no wonder that Agatha Christie is credited as the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the 20th century, and Poirot is a French Sherlock Holmes. In order to fully enjoy the cinematography and aestheticism during the film, the novel’s background and plot is crucial. The film is set to be aesthetically pleasing, but make sure to read the novel first. This way, the movie can be spent studying artistic choices and portrayals rather than the plot progression.