Agatha Christie & Murder on the Orient Express

Bring together a luxury train, a snowy landscape outside, a corpse on board, a group of suspects trapped in a confined space, and a funny little Belgian man with an egg-shaped head … and the scene is set for one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, and one for which she had a particular fondness. Murder on the Orient Express was first published in 1934, at a cost of seven shillings and sixpence per copy, and it has never been out of print since.

Agatha Christie was a phenomenon. She took a fairly simple form of entertainment that was moderately popular at the time and through it she made herself a household name. Her novels have been translated into more languages than Shakespeare and she is the most translated individual author (currently 103 languages), her play has broken all records, she is the world’s bestselling novelist and she is known as ‘the Queen of Crime’.

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” – Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express

By all accounts Agatha Christie was a perfectly nice woman, and yet she created a huge number of corpses – through strangulation, poison, stabbings, pistol shots, and a host of other ghastly ways. At the same time she managed to give her readers a sense of order and control, she never distresses them with the horrors of a crime. In fact, she excelled in what should be a contradiction in terms – a ‘cosy murder’ in a genteel setting (usually English).

Murder on the Orient Express was an instant hit. It plays an audacious confidence trick on its readers. Some readers were not happy with its solution but most critics were very favourable. Dorothy L. Sayers, herself a superb mystery writer, described it as “a murder mystery conceived and carried out on the finest classical lines”, while Compton McKenzie called it “a capital example of its class”.

I love reading good murder mysteries. I love the sense of closure when the criminal is found out and brought to justice, I enjoy being part of the chase, I love the puzzle and knowing that I should try and pick up clues as I read. And of course, Agatha Christie is probably the most famous writer of mysteries of all time. Come with me on a literary exploration of one of her classic novels.

Why do you think murder mysteries are so popular? What is it that makes them satisfying to the reader? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Featured image credit- Still from ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ 2017 20thC Fox movie adaptation at imdb fan sites http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3402236/

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