Murder on the Orient Express is a detective novel by 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 U.K. edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the U.S. edition at $2.00.
|Murder on the Orient Express|
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|1 January 1934|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Hound of Death|
|Followed by||Unfinished Portrait|
After catching the Taurus Express from Aleppo in Syria and traveling to Istanbul, private detective Hercule Poirot arrives at the Tokatlian Hotel. Once there, he receives a telegram prompting him to return to London. He instructs the concierge to book a first-class compartment on the Simplon-Orient Express leaving that night. However, the train is fully booked, and Poirot only gets a second-class berth after the intervention of his friend M. Bouc, a fellow Belgian who is a director of the train line Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits and is also boarding the train. After boarding, Poirot is approached by Samuel Ratchett, a malevolent, elderly American. Ratchett believes his life is being threatened and attempts to hire Poirot but, due to his distaste, Poirot refuses.
On the second night of the journey, as he is only travelling to Italy, M. Bouc gives up his first class-compartment to Poirot, who is going to Calais. This gives Poirot the compartment next to Ratchett. The train is stopped by a snowdrift near Vinkovci (spelled Vincovci in the book). Several events disturb Poirot's sleep, including a cry emanating from Ratchett's compartment. The next morning, M. Bouc informs him that Ratchett has been murdered and asks Poirot to investigate.
After Poirot and Dr. Constantine examine Ratchett's compartment, Poirot finds a note with the words '-member little Daisy Armstrong' on it, which causes him to ascertain Ratchett's real identity. A few years before, three-year-old heiress Daisy Armstrong was kidnapped by a man named Lanfranco Cassetti, who collected a ransom and killed the child. Cassetti was caught but fled the country after he was acquitted on a technicality. Poirot concludes that Ratchett was Cassetti.
Poirot discovers that everyone in the coach had a connection to the Armstrong family and a motive to kill Cassetti. He proposes two possible solutions. The first solution is that a stranger boarded the train and murdered Cassetti. The second one is that all of the passengers conspired to murder Cassetti. Mrs. Hubbard, revealed to be the famous actress Linda Arden, Daisy Armstrong's grandmother, confesses that the second solution is the correct one. M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine choose to present the first theory to the Yugoslavian police.
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: "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 Armstrong kidnapping case was based on the actual kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932, just before the book was written. 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.
Another, less-remembered, real-life event also helped inspire the novel. Agatha Christie first travelled on the Orient Express in late 1928. Just a few months later, in February 1929, an Orient Express train was trapped by a blizzard near Cherkeskoy, Turkey, remaining marooned for six days.
Christie herself was involved in a similar incident in December 1931 while returning from a visit to her husband's archaeological dig at Nineveh. The Orient Express train she was on was stuck for 24 hours due to rainfall, flooding, and sections of the track being washed away. Her authorised biography quotes in full a letter to her husband detailing the event. The letter includes descriptions of some passengers on the train, who influenced the plot and characters of the book, particularly an American lady, Mrs. Hilton, who was the inspiration for Mrs. Hubbard.
John Moffatt starred as Poirot in a five-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation by Michael Blakewell, 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 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 and is now considered one of the best cinematic adaptations of Christie's work ever. The film starred Albert Finney as Poirot, Martin Balsam as M. 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 (Hildegard 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 M. 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 the doctor to create Doctor Arbuthnot, a sniper who served under Colonel Armstrong in the war and had his medical school paid for by Armstrong; and M. 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 80min 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 (inasmuch 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.
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. The title was Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken (オリエント急行殺人事件), and it featured several famous actors, including Ninomiya Kazunari (二宮和也), Matsushima Nanako (松嶋菜々子), Tamaki Hiroshi (玉木宏), Kichise Michiko (吉瀬美智子), Nishida Toshiyuki (西田敏行), and Sawamura Ikki (沢村一樹). The main character, Suguro Takeru (勝呂武尊), modeled on Hercule Poirot, was played by actor Nomura Mansai (野村萬斎).
The first night featured a storyline true to the original text, but set in Japan in 1933. In this version, the train was called Orient Kyuukou (オリエント急行), and ran from the western city of Shimonoseki (下関) to Tokyo (東京), with the train stopped by a small avalanche near Sekigahara (関ヶ原) in Gifu Prefecture(岐阜県).
The second night was an original story.
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.