Study Guide

Murder on the Orient Express

By Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express Introduction

You want murder? We've got murder.

You want mystery? We've got that too.

Do we hear you asking for a super sleuth? Oh, yes. This is the book for you.

Agatha Christie is the grand dame of the British murder mystery genre. During her lifetime she penned 66 works of detective fiction, nearly all of them whodunit plots with bloody knives, poison pens, and smoking guns galore. Whether on a remote island or a posh steam engine, Christie's fiction deals in death. The result? She's sold more than two billion copies of her books.

What can we say? Death sells.

Agatha Christie's iconic literary detectives – the Belgian Hercule Poirot and the spinster Miss Marple – appear regularly in her novels and have been brought to life on the small screen by a number of actors. Christie's crime-solving characters carry on the long tradition of British detective fiction pioneered by earlier writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous main man, Sherlock Holmes. Christie's work influenced later authors in the genre, like Patricia Highsmith and P.D. James.

But on to the case at hand.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels. In it, we find the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on a steam engine traveling from Syria to London. Everything's fine and dandy, until the train is caught in a snowdrift and one of the passengers is murdered. Cut off from the police, the little Belgian detective is pressed to take the case. He must collect evidence and interrogate the passengers in order to decide who among the strangers on the train would have been driven to murder.

Readers follow along with Poirot's investigation and get the chance to use their powers of observation. (Or their "little grey cells," as Poirot would say.) We think you've got a good chance at cracking the case, though the American crime writer Raymond Chandler once cheekily remarked that "only a halfwit could guess it."

That said, even if you can't pin the murderer, Murder on the Orient Express offers readers tons of cool stuff to think about, beyond just who has blood on their hands. For example, the novel is really interested in how we define justice as opposed to revenge. That is, when is murder justified and when is it just, well, murder? A juicy question, to be sure. The question gets even more complicated, though, since we don't have a judge or jury on hand or even a court of law to tell us what's right and what's wrong. Instead, the passengers on the train – who are from all different countries and classes – must play those parts themselves. Is justice served in the end? That's a mystery only the reader can solve.

What is Murder on the Orient Express About and Why Should I Care?

Shmoop Fit Tip of the Day:

Your brain is a muscle, and in order to keep it in shape, you've got to work it, pump it, and give that sucker some exercise.

No, we're not asking you to lift a dumbbell with your head. (Although, heck, if you can do that, let us know.) We're asking you to exercise in a different way. We want you to make your "little grey cells" sweat.

How?

We at Shmoop keep our grey cells fit by solving puzzles, using logic, and honing our powers of observation: that is, by reading mystery novels. They keep our deductive reasoning sharp and heighten our thinking skills.

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is a great workout for your head. Think of it as giving your intellect a good workout – with a little Belgian detective as your personal brain trainer.

Murder on the Orient Express Resources

Websites

The Official Agatha Christie Website
Get your detective fiction on at this comprehensive website for the late author. Find everything from info on detectives and sidekicks to maps for Christie's various novels.

Hercule Poirot Central
A website dedicated to our favorite Belgian detective.

Christie's Life
Interested in finding out about the author's background? Start snooping here.

Poirot
Hunt for clues about Christie's famous detective.

Matthew's Blog
Great insights and memories from Christie's grandson, Matthew.

The Orient Express
Want to take a trip on the real-life Venice Simplon-Orient-Express? Get out your credit cards. This thing is posh.

The Christie Quiz
Think you're a super sleuth? Test your knowledge with this online quiz from the New Yorker.

Movie or TV Productions

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Albert Finney dons the mustache for the big screen.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001)
Albert Molina takes on Poirot's role.

Murder on the Orient Express (2009)
Poirot is played by the iconic David Suchet in this Masterpiece PBS version.

Historical Documents

Christie Maps
Check out maps of the settings for nearly all of Christie's books.

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography
Christie published her memoir in 1977.

Poirot's Obituary
In 1975, Hercule Poirot became the first fictional character to have his death notice splashed across the front page of The New York Times.

On Board with Poirot
Read actor David Suchet's (the PBS Poirot) account of his time aboard the Orient Express.

Video

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Here's the trailer for Murder on the Orient Express starring Albert Finney.

Murder on the Orient Express (2009)
This trailer is for the Masterpiece PBS Orient Express with the great David Suchet.

Riding the Orient Express (BBC)
A glimpse into old-timey luxury from the show 50 Things To Do Before You Die.

Audio

"The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip"
Learn about the real Orient Express from this short NPR broadcast.

"Actor David Suchet's Bombastic Detective Poirot"
A 2010 NPR broadcast about David Suchet's portrayal of Hercule Poirot for the BBC and PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.

Images

Poirot's Costume
This cool interactive graphic tells you all about actor David Suchet's Poirot outfit.

Google Doodle
Hercule Poirot was honored with his very own Google doodle.