2020-03-06

Agatha Christie 100 - Murder on the Orient Express

Perhaps you've heard of this one? It's the one where...


Hercule Poirot has been helping the French army with a sticky situation in Syria, and is now due to return to Britain again. He does so by riding the famous Orient Express, which is unusually crowded for the season. In the middle of Yugoslavia - as it was then known - the train gets stuck in the snow, but what is worse - one of the passengers is found murdered with a slew of stab wounds in his chest!

So we reach the second of Christie's stone cold classics. Over the last decade or so, there's been a few mumblings that it's a bit gimmicky and there's too much focus on interviews with the train passengers. Pish posh is what I say to that. This is a great, great detective story. The interviews are interesting, especially as soon as Poirot makes the important discovery that the murder is connected to a previous kidnapping in the USA.

I really don't have much else to say about this novel. If you haven't read it before, then you should, and if you have and you didn't like it, then you should read it again, because you're wrong.

This gets a 97 out of a 100. Why only 97? Well, it might very well be Christie's best novel, but I have to leave room for a novel to overtake it if it turns out that this re-read brings me another favourite.

1936 1953 1957 1964
1974 1984 1990 2001
2014 2017

So, Christie's second classic, and obviously there's been a lot of Swedish editions of this one. Us Swedes made a tiny change to the title when translating it, putting the "murder" in the definite form unlike the English title. By the way, this is an excellent title, as opposed to all those "murder at [manor]" for one simple reason, and that is that the reader can be expected to know what the "Orient Express" is and therefore have all sorts of associations and connotations, while "Styles", "End House" or "Hazelmoor" will not immediately tell the reader anything. Just to explain my personal idiosyncracy...

The first cover above is one of those dull ones where the publishers couldn't even come up with an image, instead just plastering the title all over the cover. The cover from 1953 is better, though unfortunately looks a bit like a parody with the amount of surprise shown by those two men.

The covers continue to improve with the Zebra one from the late 50s. A fine cover with the corpse and train window and snow, but minus points for not capitalising "orientexpressen". Delfinseriens cover is not one of their best - unfortunately it's the one I own - though at least they manage to show both snow and train, tiny as it is. But that mountain, is that really in the story?

There are two editions with film tie-in covers. The one from 1974 is not particularly good. If I remember correctly, it's taken at one of the stations the train stops at, but you'd be hard-pressed to know from that picture. While the 2017 one is uncomfortably modern in its design, it is still quite a bit more exciting. The train and the fog and the dim lights set a great atmosphere.

But let's get back to normal book covers, and let's do it with one of the best here: Bonniers's 1984 edition gets almost everything right. The one thing to improve it would have been to show the snow surrounding the train. The edition from 1990, again to commemorate Christie's 100 year jubilee, is okay, I guess. But it really could have been from any mystery story with a murder committed with a dagger.

Which also goes for the 2001 cover. To be honest, there's not much difference between that one and a couple of the covers for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The more recent cover from 2014 is in some ways a repeat of the mid 80s cover. It adds in a bit more background with the mountains and what could possibly be interpreted as snowflakes, but unfortunately only presents the train in silhouette. Making the O in the title look "oriental" is a nice touch.

3 comments:

  1. This is really a classic! I reread it before seeing the movie in 2017: https://jsprbok.blogspot.com/2017/11/232-agatha-christie-murder-on-orient.html - which I actually liked. But none of the movies beats the book in my opinion. It is one of those I get back to every five years or so.

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    1. I agree with you that Branagh's movie wasn't half bad, though the Finney film is still my favourite adaptation. I will certainly check out Branagh's follow-up, though I think it's a bit lazy that he's chosen "Death on the Nile" - again!

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    2. I honestly prefer the TV version over the movie. There was something very off about the entire thing. The presentation was just terrible.

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