Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|1 January 1934|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Hound of Death|
|Followed by||Unfinished Portrait|
Murder on the Orient Express is a detective novel by English writer Agatha Christie featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 1 January 1934. In the United States, it was published on 28 February 1934, under the title of Murder in the Calais Coach, by Dodd, Mead and Company. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.
The elegant train of the 1930s, the Orient Express, is stopped by heavy snowfall. A murder is discovered, and Poirot's trip home to London from the Middle East is interrupted to solve the murder.
After taking the Taurus Express from Aleppo in Syria to Istanbul, private detective Hercule Poirot arrives at the Tokatlian Hotel. There he receives a telegram prompting him to return to London. He instructs the concierge to book a first-class compartment on the Simplon-route Orient Express service leaving that night. Although the train is fully booked, Poirot obtains a second-class berth, but only with the intervention of a friend and fellow Belgian who is also boarding the train, Monsieur Bouc, a director of the railway, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits.
A brash and vulgar American businessman named Ratchett is aboard the train with his personal secretary and translator, Hector McQueen. Once Poirot is recognized as the famous detective, Ratchett approaches him and asks if he will act as his protector as Ratchett has been receiving death threats. Poirot, repulsed by Mr. Ratchett, refuses the case. M Bouc has taken the last first-class cabin, but arranges to be moved to a separate coach and gives Poirot his space in first class. The first night Poirot sleeps in first class, he observes some strange occurrences. Early in the morning, Poirot is wakened by a cry from Ratchett's compartment next to him. The wagon lit conductor knocks on Ratchett's door and a voice from inside responds, "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé" (It is nothing. I am mistaken). Poirot has difficulty sleeping because there is a peculiar silence on the train. Mrs Hubbard rings her bell and tells the conductor a man is in her room. Poirot rings his bell for water and is informed by the conductor that the train is stuck in a snowbank. Poirot hears a loud thump next door.
The next morning, the train still stopped, M Bouc informs Poirot that Ratchett has been murdered and the murderer is still aboard the train. Poirot tells M Bouc he will investigate the case. Poirot first examines Ratchett's body and compartment. Ratchett has twelve stab wounds. The window is left open in Ratchett's compartment, presumably to make the investigators think the murderer escaped out the window, but there are no footprints outside the window in the snow. A handkerchief with the initial 'H' is found in the compartment, a pipe cleaner, a round match different from the matches Ratchett used and a charred piece of paper with the name 'Armstrong' on it.
This piece of paper helps Poirot to figure out who Ratchett really is and why someone would want to murder him. A few years earlier, a man named Cassetti kidnapped a three-year old, Daisy Armstrong. Cassetti collected a ransom from the wealthy Armstrong family, but killed the child within two hours of kidnapping her. Poirot concludes that 'Ratchett' was actually Cassetti. The voice in Ratchett's compartment could not have been the American's, since Ratchett/Cassetti spoke no French.
The interviews start with the Wagon Lit conductor, then Hector McQueen. Poirot knows that McQueen is involved with the case because he knows about the Armstrong note found in Ratchett's compartment. Hector is surprised that Poirot found the note because he thought it had been destroyed. Poirot then interviews Masterman and then Mrs Hubbard, who claims that the murderer was in her cabin. All of the passengers give Poirot suitable alibis during their interviews, although a few suspicious elements are brought to light: many passengers observed a woman in a red kimono walking down the hallway on the night of the murder, but no one admits they have a red kimono. Mrs Hubbard tells Poirot she had Greta Ohlsson lock the communicating door between her compartment and Ratchett's. Hildegarde Schmidt bumped into a stranger wearing a Wagon Lit uniform blazer.
Poirot checks every passenger's luggage. During the check he is surprised by several things: the label on Countess Andrenyi's luggage is wet, a Wagon Lit uniform is found in Hildegarde Schmidt's bag and the red kimono is found in Poirot's own luggage.
After the luggage check, Poirot, Dr Constantine and M Bouc review the facts of the case and develop a list of questions. With the evidence and questions in mind, Poirot sits and thinks about the case. When he surfaces from a trance-like state, Poirot has realised the solution to the case. He calls in several people and reveals their true identities. All of them were connected with the Amstrong tragedy in some way. Poirot discovers Countess Andrenyi is Helena Goldenberg, aunt of Daisy Armstrong. She smudged her luggage label and obscured her name, in an effort to conceal her identity. Mary Debenham was Daisy's governess; Antonio Foscanelli was the Armstrongs' chauffeur; Masterman was Col Armstrong's valet; and Greta Ohlsson was Daisy Armstrong's nurse. Princess Dragomiroff, revealed to be Sonia Armstrong's godmother, claims the monogrammed handkerchief found in Ratchett's compartment.
Poirot gathers all of the passengers into the dining car and propounds two possible solutions. The first solution is that a stranger entered the train when it stopped at Vinkovci, killed Ratchett and disembarked from the train. The second solution is that the passengers aboard the Orient Express participated in stabbing Cassetti - Ratchett - to death. Poirot suggests that twelve of the thirteen passengers, all close to the Armstrong case, killed Ratchett to avenge the murder of Daisy Armstrong. Mrs Hubbard, revealed as the famous actress Linda Arden, admits that the second solution is correct.
Poirot suggests that M Bouc and Dr Constantine tell the police that the first solution is correct to protect the family. M Bouc and Dr Constantine accept Poirot's suggestion.
The Times Literary Supplement of 11 January 1934 outlined the plot and concluded that "The little grey cells solve once more the seemingly insoluble. Mrs Christie makes an improbable tale very real, and keeps her readers enthralled and guessing to the end."
In The New York Times Book Review of 4 March 1934, Isaac Anderson wrote, "The great Belgian detective's guesses are more than shrewd; they are positively miraculous. Although both the murder plot and the solution verge upon the impossible, Agatha Christie has contrived to make them appear quite convincing for the time being, and what more than that can a mystery addict desire?"
The reviewer in The Guardian of 12 January 1934 noted that the murder would have been "perfect" (i.e., a perfect crime) had Poirot not been on the train and also overheard a conversation between Miss Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot before he boarded; however, "The 'little grey cells' worked admirably, and the solution surprised their owner as much as it may well surprise the reader, for the secret is well kept and the manner of the telling is in Mrs Christie's usual admirable manner."
Robert Barnard said that this novel was "The best of the railway stories. The Orient Express, snowed up in Yugoslavia, provides the ideal 'closed' set-up for a classic-style exercise in detection, as well as an excuse for an international cast-list. Contains my favourite line in all Christie: 'Poor creature, she's a Swede.' Impeccably clued, with a clever use of the Cyrillic script (cf. The Double Clue). The solution raised the ire of Raymond Chandler, but won't bother anyone who doesn't insist his detective fiction mirror real-life crime." The reference is to Chandler's criticism of Christie in his essay The Simple Art of Murder.
The kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932 inspired that element in Christie's novel two years later. The novel used many elements of the real life case: a young child, firstborn of the family, was kidnapped for ransom directly from the crib, the parents were famous, the father was a well known pilot and the mother pregnant, and the ransom was paid but the child found dead soon after. An innocent, but perhaps loose-lipped, maid employed by Lindbergh's parents was suspected of involvement in the crime. After being harshly interrogated by police, she committed suicide.
Two less notable events helped inspire her novel: Agatha Christie's first journey on the Orient Express in late 1928, and a blizzard near Cherkeskoy, Turkey, that marooned an Orient Express for six days just a few months later, in February 1929.
Flooding from rainfall that washed sections of track away in December 1931 halted Christie's return from her husband's archaeological dig at Nineveh aboard an Orient Express for twenty four hours. Her authorised biography details that event in a complete quotation of a letter to her husband, which describes several passengers on her train who inspired both the plot and the characters in her novel, including an American, Mrs. Hilton, who inspired Mrs. Hubbard.
John Moffatt starred as Poirot in a five-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation by Michael Bakewell, directed by Enyd Williams, and originally broadcast from 28 December 1992 - 1 January 1993. André Maranne appeared as Bouc, Joss Ackland as Cassetti, Sylvia Syms as Mrs Hubbard, Siân Phillips as Princess Dragomiroff, Francesca Annis as Mary Debenham, and Peter Polycarpou as Dr Constantine.
In 2017, the streaming service Audible released another radio adaptation that featured Tom Conti as the voice of Poirot. The voice cast also featured Sophie Okonedo as Mary Debenham, Eddie Marsan as Cassetti, and narration from Art Malik.
The Soviet radio play was released in 1966. The voice cast featured Vsevolod Yakut as Poirot, Rostislav Plyatt as Colonel Arbuthnot, Maria Babanova as Hubbard, Oleg Yefremov as Hector McQueen, Leonid Kanevsky as Antonio Foscarelli, Angelina Stepanova as Princess Dragomiroff and Alexander Lazarev as Hardman.
The book was made into a 1974 movie directed by Sidney Lumet and produced by John Brabourne and Richard B. Goodwin; it was a critical and commercial hit. The film starred Albert Finney as Poirot, Martin Balsam as Signor Bianchi, George Coulouris as Dr Constantine, and Richard Widmark as Ratchett/Cassetti, with the remaining cast suspects including Sean Connery (Arbuthnot), Lauren Bacall (Mrs Hubbard), Anthony Perkins (McQueen), John Gielgud (Beddoes), Michael York (Count Andrenyi), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Pierre Michel), Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), Wendy Hiller (Princess Dragomiroff), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Debenham), Rachel Roberts (Hildegarde Schmidt), Colin Blakely (Hardman), Denis Quilley (Foscarelli), and Ingrid Bergman, who won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Greta Ohlsson. Only minor changes were made for the film: Masterman was renamed Beddoes, the dead maid was named Paulette instead of Susanne, Helena Goldenberg became Helena Grünwald (which is German for "Greenwood"), Antonio Foscarelli became Gino Foscarelli, Caroline Martha Hubbard became Harriet Belinda Hubbard, and the train line's Belgian/Flemish director, Monsieur Bouc, became instead an Italian director, Signor Bianchi.
On 16 June 2015, 20th Century Fox hired Kenneth Branagh to direct and star as Poirot in another film adaptation of the story, which was released on 3 November 2017. On 29 September 2016, the studio issued a press release announcing much of the cast, including Johnny Depp as Mr Ratchett, Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs Hubbard, Penélope Cruz as Pilar Estravados (a Hispanic version of Greta Ohlsson, the name coming from a character in Hercule Poirot's Christmas),Dame Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff, Sir Derek Jacobi as Masterman, Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr Arbuthnot, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Lucy Boynton as Countess Andrenyi, Tom Bateman as Monsieur Bouc,Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Biniamino Marquez (a Cuban version of Antonio Foscarelli),Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen,Marwan Kenzari as Pierre Michel,Sergei Polunin as Count Andrenyi,Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, and Olivia Colman as Hildegarde Schmidt. Greta Ohlsson is renamed to Pilar Estravados; the character of Colonel Arbuthnot is combined with Dr Constantine to create Dr Arbuthnot, a sniper who served under Colonel Armstrong in the war and had his medical school paid for by Armstrong; and Monsieur Bouc is changed from the director of the line to the director's nephew. Added was a direct link for Poirot to the Armstrong kidnapping--before Sonia's death, John Armstrong wrote to Poirot for help. Also unlike the book, the kidnapping did not take place on Long Island but in New Jersey, where the Lindbergh Kidnapping took place. Susanne Michel is switched from Pierre Michel's daughter to his sister. Cyrus Hardman poses as an Austrian scientist for part of the film. The last scene also sets up the possibility of Death on the Nile as a sequel.
A thoroughly modernised and poorly received made-for-TV version starring Alfred Molina as Poirot was presented by CBS in 2001. This version co-starred Meredith Baxter as Mrs Hubbard and Leslie Caron as the Princess Dragomiroff (renamed Señora Alvarado and portrayed as the widow of a South American dictator). Poirot is portrayed as significantly younger and less eccentric than Christie's detective, and is given a subplot involving a romantic relationship with Vera Rosakoff, who is loosely based on an infrequently recurring character of the same name. The story is updated to a contemporary setting, and four of the suspects (Hildegard Schmidt, Cyrus Hardman, Edward Masterman and Greta Ohlssohn) are deleted, as is Dr Constantine.
David Suchet reprised the role of Hercule Poirot in "Murder on the Orient Express" (2010), an 80-minute movie-length episode of the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot co-produced by ITV Studios and WGBH-TV, adapted for the screen by Stewart Harcourt. The original air date was 11 July 2010 in the United States, and it was aired on Christmas Day 2010 in the UK. The cast includes Dame Eileen Atkins as Princess Dragomiroff, Hugh Bonneville as Masterman, Jessica Chastain as Mary Debenham, Barbara Hershey as Mrs Hubbard, Toby Jones as Cassetti, and David Morrissey as Colonel Arbuthnot. The character Cyrus Hardman (the former American police officer turned private detective) has been largely amalgamated with the chauffeur Foscarelli (in as much as regards being the lover of the dead maid) and Dr Constantine (who in the novel is unrelated to the murders) becomes a co-conspirator. The main difference from the novel is the additional element of Poirot's Catholicism being brought to the forefront, and his personal and religious struggle with whether to expose the murderers or let them off the hook, as well as a much darker atmosphere of the film, in comparison with the novel.
The interior of the Orient Express was reproduced at Pinewood Studios in London, while other locations include the Freemason Hall, Nene Valley Railway, and a street in Malta (shot to represent Istanbul).
A Japanese adaptation was broadcast over two nights in January 2015 on Fuji Television, titled Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken, and it featured several famous actors, including Ninomiya Kazunari, Matsushima Nanako, Tamaki Hiroshi, Kichise Michiko, Nishida Toshiyuki, and Sawamura Ikki. The main character, Suguro Takeru, modeled on Hercule Poirot, was played by actor Nomura Mansai.
The first night featured a storyline true to the original text, but set in Japan in 1933. In this version, the train Orient Kyuukou ran from the western city of Shimonoseki to Tokyo, with the train stopped by a small avalanche near Sekigahara, Gifu.
The second night was an original story.
American playwright Ken Ludwig adapted the novel into a play, which premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey on March 14 2017. The production was directed by Emily Mann, and starred Allan Corduner in the role of Hercule Poirot.
The point and click computer game Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express was released in November 2006 for Windows and expanded on Agatha Christie's original story with a new playable central character as Hercule Poirot (voiced by David Suchet) is ill and recovering in his train compartment.
The story's first true publication was the US serialisation in six instalments in the Saturday Evening Post from 30 September to 4 November 1933 (Volume 206, Numbers 14 to 19). The title was Murder in the Calais Coach, and it was illustrated by William C. Hoople.
The UK serialisation appeared after book publication, appearing in three instalments in the Grand Magazine, in March, April, and May 1934 (Issues 349 to 351). This version was abridged from the book version (losing some 25% of the text), was without chapter divisions, and named the Russian princess as Dragiloff instead of Dragomiroff. Advertisements in the back pages of the UK first editions of The Listerdale Mystery, Why Didn't They Ask Evans, and Parker Pyne Investigates claimed that Murder on the Orient Express had proven to be Christie's best-selling book to date and the best-selling book published in the Collins Crime Club series.