Friday, January 22, 2010
Agatha Christie's 1934 classic, Murder on the Orient Express, is a clean, fast, invigorating reading experience, just as enjoyable as its most famous adaptation: the 1974 film by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Interestingly, the elegance of the Orient Express was a thematic addition to the film; the now famous traveling experience is described in the book as little more than a long train ride laced with the usual inconveniences of an extended trip. Either the Orient Express wasn't in reality all that sumptuous, or such richness was taken for granted when Christie wrote her story.
The details and resolution more or less play out as they do in the movie, though the book has a few extra layers of detail and a few small differences in the murder's solution, though there's nothing hugely different in either case. Reading the book, in fact, makes one appreciate the movie even more, in that was it able to faithfully tell the book's story with only a minimum of simplification and consolidation.
As the years go by, the book has gained one added literary benefit beyond the pleasures of its mystery story: with its dozen or so characters who represent many nationalities and political positions, Murder on the Orient Express presents to the modern reader a sharp snapshot of the world stage just prior to the outbreak of World War II, in a much sharper fashion than the film does. Sometimes the best time capsules are those that never aspired to be such, and that's certainly the case here. So, while modern readers will certainly enjoy the mystery story on hand, I think many will also be fascinated with the journey back to a period when the clouds of war were still somewhat in the distance, but- as personified by the uneasy comments and offhand worries of one character about another- were nevertheless slowly creeping closer.
The accompanying graphic depicts the dust jacket illustration of the first UK edition of the novel. Murder on the Orient Express is currently available on Kindle for $4.79.