Recommendation: Tis’ a classic for a reason
Where to read: On a cold winter’s night would be my suggestion
Read with: A wee glass of port, or sherry if that’s your preference
In brief: For my money, the best Christie novel is And Then There Were None, partly because it eschews the traditional Christie Poirot and Ms Marple ‘everyone is sat down in the drawing room and the resolution is announced by the clever detective’ model. Murder on the Orient Express is, however, extremely entertaining.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s most evocative and claustrophobic novels, set in the first class section of the Orient Express en route from Istanbul to Paris and featuring a motley collection of figures and snow storm. A victim of its own success, it is no longer a particularly effective whodunit – indeed, the resolution has been so effectively spoiled that it has become a cliché. It also strains credulity at some points. It should also be said that some of the red herrings and plot twists are absurd, even if you credit that some of the more bizarre decisions are last minute, half-baked adjustments to the plan to account for Poirot’s unexpected presence. Christie clearly wanted to write a novel where “they all did it” but the conspirators’ plot is really a little nonsensical.
I was inspired to pick this up after a rewatch of Ken Branagh’s excellent adaption. Much like Death on the Nile, the comparative exercise emphasised the virtues of the film version – the characters and ending were slightly tweaked to offer something new to the viewers and some of the machinations edited down for a more streamlined narrative. It also turned Poirot’s decision to let the murderers walk away into an actual moral dilemma that he struggles with, as opposed to an easy decision which, in the novel, passes almost unremarked.
There are, as I say, better Christie novels out there but this is one of her most iconic and frequently appears on lists of ‘must reads’. And for the short amount of time this will take you to read, I think it’s worth it.