Murder On The Orient Express Summary

Agatha Christie

Murder On The Orient Express

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Murder On The Orient Express Summary

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Famed crime novelist Agatha Christie published the classic Murder on the Orient Express in 1934. It first appeared in serialized form in the Saturday Evening Post from July to September 1933. Its themes include revenge, the reality of true evil, and the real meaning of justice.

The detective novel opens with a young French Lieutenant, Dubosc, escorting a stranger to the Taurus Express. They are in a train station in Aleppo, Syria.

Dubosc doesn’t realize that he is speaking to none other than Hercule Poirot, a renowned, retired Belgian detective. Poirot is a major figure in Christie’s oeuvre, and appears in 31 novels and a play.

As Dubosc and Poirot wait for the train, Poirot informs the lieutenant of his planned trip to Stamboul (Istanbul).

On the train, Poirot becomes suspicious of a couple – Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham – who act like strangers but whose subtle movements suggest they know each other.

In Stamboul, Poirot checks in to the Tokatlian Hotel. Yet no sooner has he arrived then an emergency telegram from London arrives, asking him to return.

While waiting for another train, Poirot runs into Monsieur Bouc, an old colleague. Bouc has connections with the railroad, and gets Poirot a VIP ticket along the Orient Express. The two continue to talk, and Poirot mentions that he saw Samuel Ratchett and Hector McQueen (Samuel’s private secretary) dining in the Tokatlian Hotel. He knows them to be a morally dubious duo, and he wants to warn Monsieur Bouc about them.

The Orient Express happens to be full (which is highly unusual in December), and Poirot has to ride in the second-class car. It doesn’t take long for him to run into Ratchett. In confidence, Ratchett tells Poirot that he has reason to believe that someone is planning on murdering him. For some time now, he has been receiving malicious letters. He asks Poirot to help him find the sender of these letters, and even offers him substantial amounts of money, but Poirot declines.

Monsieur Bouc, who is only going to Italy, while Poirot must travel to western France, switches coaches with Poirot, allowing the detective to sleep in a first-class cabin. Throughout the night, Poirot notices unusual sounds, but he tries to ignore them. He thinks how unusual it is for a first-class cabin to have such a range of ethnicities – French, Italian, Russian, Hungarian –, a situation one, Poirot thinks, would normally only encounter in America.

On the third night, he hears a scream at around 1:00 a.m. It seems to have come from Ratchett’s cabin. The conductor knocks on the cabin door, and Poirot overhears someone in French say, “It is nothing. I am mistaken.”

Poirot tries to fall asleep again, but cannot. Soon, he hears someone ringing their bell urgently. He overhears that it is Mrs. Hubbard, an elderly American actress. She is hysterical, and says that a mysterious man was in her cabin.

Meanwhile, the train has stopped because of too much snowfall.

The next morning, Monsieur Bouc tells Poirot that Ratchett has been murdered; he was stabbed twelve times in his sleep.  To avoid a public scandal, he asks Poirot to investigate the murder. With the request coming from a friend, Poirot accepts and starts evaluating the evidence immediately.

He notices that some wound marks come from a right-handed person, while others come from a left-handed person. In Ratchett’s pajamas is a broken watch that stopped at 1:15a.m.

Poirot scours through Ratchett’s cabin. He reassembles a badly burned letter and makes out the phrase, “-member little Daisy Armstrong.” This is enough to suddenly jolt Poirot’s memory: Ratchett is really an Italian-American whose last name was Cassetti. Five years ago, he kidnapped a three-year-old heiress to a great fortune. The family paid the ransom, but he killed the child anyway. The murder was so gut-wrenching to some family members that several of them committed suicide, including Sonia, Daisy’s mother. Daisy’s father, Colonel Armstrong, then shot himself. Though Cassetti was apprehended, he had so much money that he was able to tamper with the trial and flee the country.

As Poirot continues his search, he realizes that many people among his fellow passengers had some connection to the Armstrong family, and thus a compelling reason to want Cassetti dead.

Poirot then gives Monsieur Bouc and Dr. Constantine (a Greek physician Poirot had met on the first day) two solutions they can present to the Yugoslavian authorities, whose bad reputation had led Monsieur Bouc to seek Poirot’s help in the first place. One, they can say that a stranger somehow gained access to the train and murdered Cassetti. Two, they can say that all of the thirteen passengers in the first class cabin worked together to ensure Cassetti’s death.

Further discussion reveals that Countess Helena Andrenyi likely did not conspire in the murder, leaving the other twelve passengers as suspects; this is significant because it is the same number of the jury members who, had Cassetti not fled America, would have judged him. Each of the twelve stabbed Cassetti once.

Eventually, Mrs. Hubbard, who admits to being Daisy Armstrong’s grandmother, confesses that the dozen passengers coordinated together to kill Cassetti. She highlights that each of them suffered gravely because of Cassetti, that he would likely have killed more girls like Daisy, and that she would gladly go to prison if it spared the others. It’s also revealed that Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham are in love and want to build a new life together.

Though Monsieur Bouc and Dr. Constantine now know the true killers, their sense of justice compels them to lie to the Yugoslavian police, and say that a stranger has killed someone on the Orient Express. Monsieur Bouc plans to accuse a Mr. Harris (a fictitious name that the conspirators booked so that there would be another prime suspect) and Dr. Constantine plans to edit his autopsy report to align with Poirot’s first suggestion. Poirot then considers the case solved.