Sunday, June 16, 2013

Teen Review: Classic Mystery

Murder on the
Orient Express
by Agatha Christie
256 pages
Mystery/crime fiction
Part of a series, but each can be read as a stand-alone
Grades 7-12
Reviewed by Viva, 12th grade

Are you traveling far and needing a suspenseful thriller to cozy up to in the car...or train? Maybe you're even staying close to home and need an escape from the calm, summery weather all around. Well, if a mysterious murder on a European train that's trapped in the middle of a convenient snowdrift will entice your crime-solving mind, then this Agatha Christie novel is the right summer book for you.

This book is just one of Christie's many Detective Hercule Poirot crime novels, and takes place on an old train, the Orient Express. After Monsieur Poirot, the book's protagonist, spends a day in "Stamboul" (Istanbul), he learns he must cut his visit short and head back to London. Poirot books the only first-class compartment left on the Orient Express, which is unusually crowded for that time of year. Before the train's arrival, Poirot takes interest in a peculiar man he sees at his hotel. Poirot is particularly given the creeps by this man because of the evil look in his eyes. Poirot is surprised on the first night on board the train when the same man, introducing himself as Mr. Ratchett, desperately begs Poirot to protect him (Ratchett recognizes Poirot as a famous detective). The man offers Poirot money to investigate several letters sent to him, which threaten to end his life. Poirot refuses bluntly with an “I do not like your face, M. Ratchett.” Very humorous, this Poirot!

The seemingly ordinary journey soon becomes the most shocking murderous ride as private detective Hercule Poirot must unexpectedly use his detective skills to solve a crime when Mr. Ratchett is found dead in his compartment the next morning. With twelve violent stab wounds and a train-load of suspects and witnesses, Poirot must solve the crime while the storm outside delays their journey. Amongst both eager and whining passengers who each think they heard or saw something, Poirot and the train's company director, Monsieur Bouc, must begin sorting the facts from the claims as the fast and twisted investigation is launched into finding out who each passenger is and what they are doing on the train. With nothing else to do and a dead body on board, Poirot and Bouc fall into the complex puzzle of solving the mystery, as each night more information is discovered, passengers reveal secrets, and related evidence turns up in random passengers' luggage, including Monsieur Poirot's...leading the men to believe that the murderer is still on board...and in fact playing a cruel mind game with the detective and his helpers.

So, Poirot...he's French, and on board the train they speak lots of French as a second language. So yeah, some things are common sense as Christie includes random French words or phrases after someone says something, but even the basics are surpassed in the dialogue--and there's some useful information not translated by Christie. I suggest having Google Translate by your side if vous ne prenez pas le français? Other than the neglected translations, the character of Poirot is methodical and quirky--and likable! The rest of the train's occupants are difficult to read, so thank you, Poirot for explaining all your findings and realizations. Those readers who are overwhelmed by the twists and turns of the investigation are represented by Poirot's friend, Monsieur Bouc. He asks a lot of unnecessary and repetitive questions, so Poirot basically constructs and completes the investigation on his own. M. Bouc, you are not helpful! But he is there to clear things up and acts as the sort of sidekick to Poirot's wonderful and deep-thinking mind. The book is intense...but I must admit I kind of saw it coming once I was halfway. However, this books earns itself a rating as a classic for several reasons, and one is that it is a fantastic page-turner--not too slow, and not too much “thinking.” It's rapid suspense and thrill and a must-read for any mystery lover!

Editor's note: As you can see, this book has been around long enough to have been published multiple times, with lots of fun covers (and there are more). This was also made into a truly classic movie, so don't miss that either--it's a chance to see performances from some big Hollywood stars when they were young and less well known. Take a look...

And if you're curious, here's a little two-minute history of the Orient Express:

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