This was my first time reading anything by Agatha Christie and I enjoyed it much more than I had thought I would. When we realized the movie was coming out, my mom went out and bought a copy of the book, devoured it on vacation and then passed it on to me. I’m not a fast reader, but it only took me about a day and a half to get through this book in which the famous detective, Hercule Poirot, is aboard the Orient Express on his way to take a vacation when the train is delayed because of massive amounts of snow on the tracks. The same night the train gets stopped, a man is murdered.
The man goes by the name Samuel Ratchett and he had asked Poirot for help the night before he was murdered. Ratchett, an American, knew someone wanted him dead, although he didn’t know who, and he wanted Poirot’s help in keeping him safe. Poirot didn’t know anything about Ratchett, but he “doesn’t like the look of his face” so he refuses to help him.
When Ratchett turns up dead the next morning M. Bouc, the director of the train line, asks for Poirot’s help in solving the murder before the train reaches the next station so he can minimize the interference of the police and, by extension, bad press for the train line.
So Poirot begins by examining the body, which has been drugged, then stabbed 12 times. The weird thing is the wounds are inconsistent – some are deeper than others and some appear to have been made by a right-handed individual, while others appear to have been made by a left-handed individual. Poirot then proceeds to interview everyone on the train, from the staff to the other passengers.
In the course of examining the body and other aspects of his cabin, Poirot discovers that Ratchett was, in fact, Lanfranco Cassetti, an American mobster accused of kidnapping and murdering Daisy Armstrong, the little girl of a wealthy American family, but Cassetti was let off on a technicality.
The most interesting part for me was realizing that part of the book was based on a real case: Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. wasn’t even two years old when he was abducted from his family’s home in New Jersey. His body was found a couple weeks later near some train tracks. The investigation was still ongoing when Christie wrote her book and the killer was never found.
I’m going to spoil both the book and the movie, including things that were different between the two, so you’ve been warned.
It turns out everyone on board the train had some connection to the Armstrong case, but were traveling in disguise or under different names or were somewhat distantly related to the case and therefore not immediately suspect, until Poirot started to do some digging.
I want to talk about this because I want to talk about my feelings about the latest film adaptation. In the book there were only three people on the train who were not involved in the murder: Poirot; M. Bouc, the director; and Dr. Constantine.
My biggest problem with the movie was they combined the characters of Dr. Constantine and Colonel Arbuthnot to make Dr. Arbuthnot, played by Leslie Odom, Jr. The problem with that is it makes the doctor’s testimony unreliable, which they got around by basically skipping most of his assessment of the body and how Ratchett was killed, which I also feel to be a mistake because that’s a pretty significant part of a murder mystery.
I also had a problem with Arbuthnot shooting Poirot in the movie, just because it was so out of character and not at all in line with a Christie mystery.
On the other hand, I understand it adds action for a movie-going audience that expects those kinds of things, so I suppose I can forgive it. Combining the doctor and the colonel I cannot forgive because it changes too much of the story.
That said it’s still a fun, gorgeous movie and I do recommend it, if you haven’t seen it already. Johnny Depp is superb as an American gangster – as always.
What did you guys read this week? Any other classics that were made into movies?