Published in 1934, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a classic example of the locked room mystery—a trope of suspense fiction in which a crime is committed under seemingly impossible conditions. Here, as in all of Christie’s novels, the crime is murder, the victim an unknown passenger named Mr. Ratchett, stabbed twelve times, and the scene of the crime the claustrophobic sleeping berths of the Orient Express.
Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, one of the passengers happens to be Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective bestowed with astounding intellect and even more astounding mustaches. Even more fortunately, the train has been caught in a snowstorm and will be unable to continue to its destination for some time. The murderer is effectively trapped. Poirot quickly sets his “little gray cells” to work and begins the investigation, which includes extensive interviews of the other passengers. These passengers are a strange mix of nationalities and social standing: a Russian princess, a Hungarian count and countess, a missionary from Sweden, businessmen from Italy and America, an American tourist, a British Colonel and a British valet, as well as a secretary, a governess, a German maid, and the French train conductor. They seem to have no connection, either with each other or the murdered man. But Poirot does not jump to conclusions. He quickly discovers Mr. Ratchett’s true identity and hypothesizes that at least one person on the train may have had good reason to want him dead.
The clues are as eclectic as the passengers and include a red kimono, a burned letter, a pipe cleaner, and a monogrammed handkerchief. Some of these are red herrings, false clues, which the murderer uses to lead Poirot astray. Of course, the Belgian detective discovers the culprit and, in classic style, gathers all the suspects together to reveal the murderer’s identity.
One of Christie’s most popular novels, Murder on the Orient Express referenced a real-life mystery: the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s child in 1932. As a testament to its continued popularity, the story has been adapted into a movie, television miniseries, comic book, and video game. Unfortunately, the real Orient Express did not share the same popularity; in 2009 the train route stopped operation.