I do not like to write reviews of whodunits: you can't do justice to the analysis without explaining what happened in detail, but then it spoils the story for whoever has not read it. So, for those mystery lovers who have not read The Murder on the Orient Express
so far, I will post a single line review: Go and read it! This one rocks! What are you waiting for?
Now, the review for fellow mystery and Christie lovers who have read the book(or like me, re-read umpteen number of times till the pages came out of the binding!).
Whodunits are like magic tricks. The writer shows you everything: the clues are all before your eyes: you rack your brains, trying to fit a solution on the jigsaw, but are unable to do so: then, in the last chapter, the author reveals that one bit of detail which you overlooked, but which was actually crucial to the solution. You kick yourself for being such an idiot, then bask in the afterglow of having been fooled by a master.
A conventional whodunit has certain rules. First, there is a murder. There are a fixed number of people who could have done the murder, who are equal in terms of motive and opportunity. As the story progresses through its twists and turns, the reader keeps on guessing, shifting his suspicion from one suspect to another. If the novel is well-written, the author will succeed in totally removing suspicion from the actual murderer before the final revelation.
Very rarely does an author break the basic rules and get away with it smoothly, as Agatha Christie does in this novel. It shows what a master of the craft she is.The Murder on the Orient Express
is a classic locked room mystery: in the snowed-in train, one of the twelve passengers have to be guilty. And as the past history of Ratchett (the victim) as the mastermind behind the kidnapping and murder of little Daisy Armstrong comes to light, we know that we are in for a real humdinger: because there are so many people wishing him out of the way, and many of them are likely to be on the Calais coach. But when Poirot unearths the fact that each and every one of the passengers is connected to the Armstrong family in some way, we feel that Dame Agatha has stretched coincidence to the limit, even if it is in the interest of a good detective yarn.
But then all is revealed: There is no coincidence. They are all there as part of a plan, and they are all guilty!
In fact, Poirot is the coincidence, the joker in the pack.
I have not read another mystery where all the likely suspects are guilty! This is such a grand flouting of convention that would have fallen flat on its face, had not the story been carefully structured to make it possible. The American household is possibly the only one in the world where you can find all nationalities. If such had not been the case, the connection of the occupants of the coach to the Armstrong family would have been evident much before Christie wanted to reveal it. And the snowed-in train is the only possible setting where all the suspects could be cloistered without the possibility of outside interference, as the plotters thought the train would move on, and that the murder would be attributed to a person or persons unknown. It all fits in the end.
Also, this one story where the ending is just perfect.
(On rereading the story, I noticed certain incidents and snippets of dialogue (especially the one between Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham) which seemed to point in one direction but on hindsight, were crystal-clear in their meaning. This is why I love rereading Christie's books... it gives valuable insights into the author's technique.)
Dame Agatha Christie might not be a great writer: there are more "literary" mystery writers out there, like Dorothy L. Sayers and P. D. James. But as the spinner of a classical mystery, it is my humble opinion that there is none to touch her... and that there is no sleuth to match the little Belgian with the magnificent moustaches and the egg-shaped head.