One of the passengers on the Orient Express is murdered. The train is stranded due to a snowdrift and Poirot, who happens to be aboard, is tasked with finding the killer.
Let’s get the character of Poirot out of the way first. I don’t like him. He’s arrogant and condescending. Usually this dislike would hamper my enjoyment of the novel but somehow Christie found a way for me to still be enraptured.
The secondary characters are well done but still not what makes the story 5-star material. Poirot’s friend, Bouc – who is an executive with the train line, is in the background of the investigation giving his almost always inaccurate opinions. Poirot needs a sidekick to play off and Bouc works. The women are not all cardboard cutouts and play very important roles. Even the train conductor is important.
Most striking to me, though, is the pacing and the structure of the story. (Surprising – as many times I am so immersed in what I consider a “great” book that I don’t necessarily notice these details.) Christie uses words economically and sets the book up well. The chapters are a length that will appeal to the majority of readers. Sadly, many of us have limited reading time. So we plan to read one chapter before bed or during a work break. Christie’s genius in MotOE is that once the story is set up, she allows Poirot to interview a suspect per chapter. Once you read his interview with the Conductor, though, you realize that there are now questions for the passengers and think, “OK, I’ll just read the interview of the Secretary.” Then, your curiosity is such that you have to know what the Valet says. Before you know it, you have read all the interviews and at 75% it really will only take a little while longer to just go ahead and finish so that you can know who the heck killed this man. It was a race to the finish. Agatha won. No doubt.
World’s Best Mystery Writer? I may still need a little convincing but Murder on the Orient Express almost sealed the deal.