Agatha Christie wrote sixty-six detective novels, sixteen volumes of short stories, and nineteen plays under her own name; she also wrote five romantic novels as Mary Westmacott. Surpassed by only William Shakespeare, Christie’s work has been more widely published, in more languages, than any other author in the English language. Not surprisingly, this amount of literary output, written with the sole purpose of entertaining mystery fans but nonetheless still going strong decades after the author’s death, would eventually invite a closer inspection by critics.
Many of Christie’s themes are found in Murder on the Orient Express: physical isolation, loose associations among suspects, the truism that “everyone has something to hide,” and an alternative brand of justice. The dead man’s killers did not plan on Detective Hercule Poirot’s presence on the train, and they did not count on the weather being so bad that the train would be stuck in the middle of what was then Yugoslavia. Without these two unexpected developments, the well-planned murder might have succeeded without a hitch, but the twelve murderers on the train had to improvise, had to alter their plans for revenge to account for the weather and for Poirot. The little improvisations, the little changes made by the suspects for the detective’s benefit, eventually led Poirot and his “little grey cells” to the truth.
Literary critics who have found their way to the detective and mystery genre have rightly applauded Christie for her ingenious plots, her clever twists and turns. Even so, there are few Christie novels that have drawn more attention, with equal amounts of admiration, imitation, and parody than Murder on the Orient Express.
Christie had already...
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