Book Notes: "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express (A Hercule Poirot Mystery)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first Agatha Christie novel. Strange, I know, but as a teenager, I really didn't care whodunit. However, I have been a fan of David Suchet in Agatha Christie's Poirot in recent years, and I have seen the movie Murder on the Orient Express several times. So as I was reading the original novel, I noted the absence of the film's dark, religious undertones, and Poirot's struggle with the ideas of justice and the rule of law, and all that distinguishes humans from animals and how this was all exuded by Poirot's noble character. The novel, of course, exhibits none of these themes, and ends abruptly with Poirot more like Philip Marlowe in his pragmatic application of the finer elements of his vocation, albeit in a dandified manner rather than Bogart-esque grungy suaveness. How I would react to the novel had I not seen the film, one can never know, but I cannot help feel a little disappointed, while at the same time pleased with the obvious improvements introduced by the film. Christie is clearly an excellent story-teller, and I will now have to read one of her stories that is not familiar to know for sure. But there is something about the prose that captures and holds the reader. I call this being a "storyteller", and I immediately think of Somerset Maugham in the same vein. Nevertheless, the comparison ends there, as Christie is not in the same class as Maugham, and had it not been for the film, I would find it hard to think of this novel as little more than a story well told; a Commando comic type of novel, a short, quick spot of entertainment while taking a train (well, maybe not a train!) or a bus to work, but one that cannot be taken seriously. It does, however, raise for me the issue of how a good screenwriter can do wonders with a story. I immediately think of James Clavell, who was also an excellent storyteller, but who had the ability to write for the screen (such as The Great Escape and 633 Squadron. By the way, Clavell's main character was Peter Marlowe, echoing Raymond Chandler, and Clavell was Australian born). This little exploration led me to look at the works of the screenwriter for Orient Express, Stewart Harcourt. I could not find a novel written by him. This also led me to look at that other brilliant screenwriter, Woody Allen. I did not know but Allen has written many books and I must read some! So, what have I learnt from Agatha Christie? Well, and without being so conceited as to put down her work, I feel I didn't miss much by seeing the screen versions rather than reading her stories. Still, it is strange that it has taken me nearly half a century to get to her novels. To put the story in the context of her times, one must acknowledge Christie's talent. One must acknowledge, too, that, apparently, Christie now leads William Shakespeare on the best selling author's of all time list, and, I understand, second only to God and His Holy Bible. That's not a bad innings as an author.

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