Let’s look back to the end of 2017 when I foolishly decided that I would reread Murder on the Orient Express before I watched Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation. Unfortunately, I started reading Autumn by Ali Smith and it took me all fucking month to get through it. So, I decided that this was the year when I would finally do it. And, today, nearly a whole month later, I closed the final page. I should just realise that December isn’t my reading month but, if I start doing that, I’d then have to admit that no month is my reading month. It’s why I can’t ever set myself a reading challenge unless it’s read 1 book. But, let’s not get too bogged down with 2019. We’re still in 2018 and, unless I miraculously gain the ability to read super quickly, this will be the last book I finish this year. So, let’s make this review a good ‘un.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know the story of Murder on the Orient Express by now? People on a train, one man is killed, they get caught in a snowdrift, the murderer must still be on board but everyone has a water-tight alibi? Sound familiar? Handily, everyone’s favourite Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is travelling on the same train and sets about trying to find out who the killer is. With a wide selection of suspects, Hercule has a hard time trying to work out the truth beneath everyone’s lies. So, just who is responsible for the death of Mr Ratchett and what does it have to do with the murder of the young child, Daisy Armstrong, many years earlier?
Murder on the Orient Express has the be one of the most popular Agatha Christie crime novels and has one of the most well-known plot twists. The main chunk of the narrative takes place during the day after the murder takes place. The book is set out in a neat and chronological manner as we follow Poirot talking to each passenger about their whereabouts and then working his way through the evidence. As such, the narrative is incredibly easy to follow even if Christie goes out of her way to present a seemingly unsolvable mystery. And then turns around and makes the big reveal so obvious that you’ll feel like an idiot if you didn’t guess.
The thing that I love most about revisiting an Agatha Christie novel is that you pick up on so much that you don’t notice in the first place. You see the little things that Poirot picks up on and really start to appreciate the intricacies of Christie’s work. So often written off as part of the “cosy crime” genre, Christie’s novels are a wonderful exploration into human beings and their capacity for evil. She has created some memorable characters and manages to make them all seem real. She might not create the most outrageous or complicated crimes but she understands people. And that’s why she has stood the test of time. Every single character here seems totally fleshed out. You trust them all but, at the same time, trust nobody. Because, you know, humans.
This might be one of Christie’s most popular novels but, if you ask me, it’s not one of her best. There are times when the investigation gets so caught up that you can’t help but see the final outcome a bit clearer. But, what makes this such a wonderful novel to read, is the sense of claustrophobia you get. And Then There Were None is a perfect example of making the reader feel as trapped as the characters in the novel because we’re all stuck on an island together. Here, we are even more tightly bound because we’re confined to a train carriage. There’s a killer on-board and it could be anyone. The tension only increases because of how short a time the story takes. You’re essentially reading it in ‘real-time’ so you appreciate the build up of emotions and fear amongst everyone. This is some 24 level shit right here. There is a sense of urgency and immediacy that isn’t as present in other Poriot mysteries. And it’s brilliant working through it with Poriot every step of the way. Seeing how the leetle grey cells are working.
I was never going to give this book anything other than 5 stars because it’s a story I will always enjoy revisiting. It’s comforting and familiar but also engaging. There is something to enjoy with every reread and that’s not something you can say about every writer. It’s not one of those plot twists that will get you every time (which I swear happens every time I read And Then There Were None Again and Roger Aykroyd) but there are enough layers there to find something new. It’s the perfect book to snuggle up with in Winter. And that’s a cold, hard fact.