|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on September 18, 2016 at 6:05 PM|
#2: Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie. That's our second Agatha Christie, so I did not choose And then there were none, which is the favorite for a lot of readers. If you disagree, share your comments! Not that there aren't a host of other great contenders - Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Mysterious Affair at Styles, the Mirror Crack'd, etc etc etc. One of my personal experiences of how fiendish Dame Christie is. As a tyke, I started reading Elephants can Remember, which few people would select as one of her best. I was perhaps a little young for the stately English prose and the sophisticated conundrum. In a slightly arbitrary way, Dame Christie led us to a situation where two people were dead and we knew for sure that one had killed the other, but didnt know which. I tired of reading and imposed on my mother, who had read it, to tell me the ending. Years later, I tried it again for real, and as I approached the ending, all signals pointed to a different solution than what my mother had shared. I came to the conclusion that my mother must have misunderstood the book or remembered wrong - until I came to the end and discovered that Christie had tricked me again.
I won't say that the twist ending of Murder on the Orient Express is the trickiest of all, though it is surely a contender. Seemingly half of the now trite twist endings in less worthy mystery literature start with something in Agatha Christie. But Murder on the Orient Express has the whole package - the atmosphere, the suspense, the analytical revelation of clues and heartless deception about their significance. And let's not forget the brilliant character of Hercule Poirot, perhaps the famous detective about whose inner life we know the least (next to Sherlock Holmes, whose inner thoughts we never get to experience), and I love him all the more for it. Even her choice to select a Belgian to be her detective was a very interesting choice. I don't know how many mysteries written by British authors before Poirot's first appearance featured anything but a British detective setting things right. It isnt like there is no racism or xenophobia at all in the works of Agatha Christie, but the choice of a foreigner to be her favorite protagonist was another subtle revolution.
Some classics are easy to transport to another time and some are of their own time. It has become an exciting modern trend to set Shakespeare's plays in evercy conceivable setting, and I have seen A Christmas Carol distorted and reshaped in countless ways but its internal greatness always comes through. But there is also something to be said for the classic like A Tale of two Cities or Moby Dick that are a testament to their time and place and lose something essential when transported. There was a made-for-TV update of Murder on the Orient Express a few years back, with the spectacular Alfred Molina as Poirot. But a Murder on the Orient Express where Poirot can Google the ancient crime at its heart is disappointing, and it is very difficult to convincingly reproduce the conditions by which modern people could be stranded on a train. The main accomplishment of that movie was to make me want to see Alfred Molina portray Poirot in his proper time and place.
Most readers (like myself) reach a point the first time through Murder on the Orient Express where they are beyond having a wrong theory. I came to the conclusion that there was no possible solution. And then, the solution was revealed, and as I have done so often before in my life reading mysteries, I kicked myself.
Categories: Vladimir's Top 20 Mysteries