Study Guide

Murder on the Orient Express Lies and Deceit

By Agatha Christie

Lies and Deceit

"Well, yes, I did. For one thing, I don't believe Ratchett was his real name. I think he left America definitely in order to escape someone or something. I think he was successful – until a few weeks ago." (1.6.72)

We quickly learn that even Ratchett himself had assumed a false identity in order to escape his past. No one on this train is who they seem to be.

"I mean," explained Poirot, "that if the murderer intended us to believe that he had escaped by the way of the window he would naturally make it appear that the other two exits were impossible. Like the 'disappearing person' in the cabinet – it is a trick. It is our business to find out how the trick is done." (1.7.138)

Poirot likens the murderer's methods to a magic trick, suggesting that the events have a certain theatrical flair to them.

"Mr. Hardman sighed, removed the chewing gum, and dived into a pocket. At the same time his whole personality seemed to undergo a change. He became less of a stage character and more of a real person. The resonant nasal tones of his voice became modified." (2.9.33)

Mr. Hardman reveals his identity to Poirot, and that he has been working undercover. However, he doesn't reveal his connection to the Armstrong family.

"I look first at my witness, I sum up his or her character, and I frame my questions accordingly. Just a little minute ago I am asking questions of a gentleman who wants to tell me all his ideas on every subject. Well, him I keep strictly to the point. I want him to answer yes or no, this or that. And then you come. I see at once that you will be orderly and methodical. You will confine yourself to the matter in hand. Your answers will be brief and to the point. And because, Mademoiselle, human nature is perverse, I ask of you quite different questions. I ask what you <em>feel</em>, what you <em>thought. </em>It does not please you this method?" (2.11.32)

Poirot has strategies for dealing with lies and deceit which have to do with manipulating human psychology. Here, he explains to Mary that he must approach each suspect differently.

"Are these people whose evidence we have taken speaking the truth or lying? We have no means of finding out – except such means as we can devise ourselves. It is an exercise, this, of the brain." (3.1.12)

Because the train is cut off from crime labs, the solution of the case turns into a battle of the wits.

"Lies –  and again lies. It amazes me, the amount of lies we had told to us this morning."

"There are more still to discover," said Poirot cheerfully.

"You think so?"

"I shall be very disappointed if it is not so." (3.5.58-61)

M. Bouc is clearly bothered by the fact that he's been lied to so much – as most people would be, probably, if they discovered they had been deceived. Why is Poirot not more disturbed once the plot starts to unravel?

"If you confront anyone who has lied with the truth, they usually admit it – often out of sheer surprise. It is only necessary to guess <em>right </em>to produce your effect." (3.5.63)

Again, one of Poirot's major weapons is human psychology. He's figured out how to catch people in a lie.

"I wished to ask you, Mademoiselle, why you lied to us this morning?"

"Lied to you? I don't know what you mean."

"You concealed the fact that at the time of the Armstrong tragedy you were actually living in the house. You told me that you had never been in America."

He saw her flinch for a moment and then recover herself. (3.7.5-8)

Poirot confronts Mary Debenham with the truth, and her reaction, however slight her flinch may be, gives her away.

"This," said Dr. Constantine, "is more wildly improbably than any <em>roman policier </em>I have ever read." (3.8.59)

Dr. Constantine compares the plot to a <em>roman policier</em>, or a police novel. This is a very meta thing to do, isn't it? The fiction is calling attention to itself as fiction.

"And then, Messieurs, I saw light. They were <em>all </em>in it. For so many people connected with the Armstrong case to be traveling by the same train by a coincidence was not only unlikely, it was <em>impossible. </em>It must be not chance, but <em>design</em>." (3.9.58)

Again, this is another incredibly meta moment. We realize that the plot of the novel is also a plot by the characters.

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