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Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 1, Chapter 4 : The Facts (A Cry in the Night) | Summary



On the second day of the three-day trip, the train stops at Belgrade at 8:45 p.m. for half an hour. Hercule Poirot goes out on the platform, where it is bitterly cold and snowing heavily. He talks briefly with Pierre Michel, a conductor who tells him he has been moved to a new compartment, No. 1. M. Bouc moved to a compartment in the Athens coach that just connected to the train so Poirot can have his own compartment. Poirot seeks out Bouc, who confirms the conductor's news and assures Poirot it is fine. He comments on the snow, saying it is more snow than the area has seen for years.

At 9:15 p.m. the train leaves the station. As Poirot makes his way to his own coach, he notes that passengers are talking to one another outside their compartments. He chats with Hector MacQueen and later hears MacQueen invite Colonel Arbuthnot into his carriage. Mrs. Hubbard, the elderly American, is talking with the Swedish woman, Greta Ohlsson. Hubbard gives her a magazine and says she hopes Ohlsson's cold is better in the morning. After Ohlsson leaves to make a cup of tea, Mrs. Hubbard talks to Poirot, informing him the other woman is a teaching missionary who doesn't speak much English. The door of a nearby compartment opens, and Poirot sees Samuel Ratchett sitting in his bed. Hubbard tells Poirot she is afraid of Ratchett, who has the compartment next to hers. She says she has a hunch about him—something is wrong with him, so wrong she would not be surprised to learn he is a murderer. Hubbard bids Poirot good night and says she is going to read in bed.

Poirot retires to his new compartment, which is on the other side of Ratchett's. He reads for about 30 minutes and then turns out the light. Several hours later, "a loud groan, almost a cry," and the simultaneous sound of a bell wake him. He notes the train has stopped moving. He opens his door a crack and sees Michel, the conductor, hurry down the corridor and knock twice at Ratchett's door. As he does so, another bell rings, and he glances down the corridor; a light has appeared over a door. A voice in Ratchett's compartment calls out, "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé," and the conductor rushes to the compartment where the bell rang.


Unknown to readers, a crime has been committed in Samuel Ratchett's compartment, and the actions of everyone on this coach will soon become key to solving the crime. Both the movements and utterances of each passenger are relevant. Every detail Christie includes is important, even if it is a seemingly inconsequential one. Consider the details related to each character mentioned in this chapter. Does a detail provide irrefutable evidence of what someone was doing, or does it provide circumstantial evidence—evidence based on a reasonable assumption—but not proof? For example, Hercule Poirot and Pierre Michel, the conductor, hear someone in Ratchett's compartment call out in French. They assume it is Ratchett, but no one has confirmed it was his voice. This is circumstantial evidence, not proof Ratchett was the speaker.

Consider also the saying "there are no coincidences." Several things happen at the same time, such as the sound of someone grunting and a bell ringing. What is the connection between these two events? A similar set of events is someone in Ratchett's compartment speaking to the conductor at the same time another bell rings. The person in Ratchett's compartment calls out, "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé," which translated means, "It is nothing. I was wrong." Are the bells ringing at these times mere coincidences, or are they intentional? If intentional, what purpose do they serve?

Readers note also the train has stopped. This will prove to be relevant because it fixes the train in a particular place at a specific time. True to the rules of the golden age of detective fiction, Christie emphasizes who was present where and when and what they were doing in relation to each other and to various events.

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