Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 1, Chapter 6 : The Facts (A Woman) | Summary

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Summary

Hercule Poirot asks to speak to Hector MacQueen. While waiting for his arrival, Pierre Michel brings the passengers' tickets and passports. When the chef de train brings MacQueen, Poirot asks the chef de train to clear everyone out of the restaurant car so it can be used to interview everyone. He interviews MacQueen in the cramped quarters of the second-class compartment in the presence of M. Bouc. First, he tells him his employer is dead. MacQueen calmly remarks, "They got him after all." When pressed to explain why he assumed Samuel Ratchett had been murdered, MacQueen asks Poirot who he is and what his role is. Poirot explains he is a detective representing the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. MacQueen says his name seems familiar but he thought it was a dressmaker's, much to Poirot's distaste.

Poirot asks MacQueen five broad questions:

  • What is his relation to Samuel Ratchett?
  • What does he know about Samuel Ratchett?
  • How did he regard his employer?
  • When did he last see his employer alive?
  • Was he on good terms with his employer?

MacQueen says he is Ratchett's secretary and had worked for him just over a year. MacQueen met his employer in Persia right after Ratchett had an argument with his prior secretary and is well paid, fluent in several languages, and traveling with Ratchett, who wanted to see the world. He knows very little about Ratchett's personal life, such as where he was from in America. He suspects he was using a false name and had left America to "escape someone or something." He successfully escaped detection until a few weeks ago, when he received threatening letters. MacQueen retrieves the letters and shows them to Poirot, who notices both letters were written by multiple individuals, "each writing a letter of a word at a time." Although Ratchett laughed off the first letter, MacQueen thinks he was unnerved by it. MacQueen admits he did not like or trust Ratchett and considers him a "cruel and dangerous man," although he gives no reasons to support his opinion. He had last seen Ratchett alive at around 10:00 p.m. the night before, when he brought some papers to his compartment. Despite his personal dislike of his employer, MacQueen believes they were on "perfectly good terms." Before dismissing him, Poirot asks him to write his full name and address and to keep quiet about Ratchett's death. After MacQueen leaves, Poirot and Bouc discuss their impressions of MacQueen. Poirot thinks MacQueen appears honest and straightforward, but he acknowledges everyone is a suspect until the last minute. He doubts MacQueen is the killer, because he appears sober-minded and unlikely to lose his head and stab "his victim twelve or fourteen times." Bouc concurs, saying such a killing is more characteristic of a person with a Latin temperament or of a woman.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot's first interview is with the person closest to the victim, his employee. Hector MacQueen is forthcoming: he openly admits to disliking Samuel Ratchett and raises the suspicion Ratchett is not who he seems to be. While MacQueen passes this first test, Poirot makes it clear no one is removed from the suspect list until the perpetuator is confirmed.

The characters, like Christie herself, think in stereotypes based on nationality. Early 20th-century Europeans commonly thought of Americans as ignorant and lacking in social refinement. MacQueen provides fodder for this stereotype with both his candor and his blunder about Poirot's name. The stereotype of the vulgar and ignorant American is somewhat shattered by MacQueen's facility with foreign languages, a characteristic possessed by more Europeans than Americans. This ability serves him well working for his American employer, Ratchett, who knows no language other than English. But MacQueen's business acumen and work ethic are questionable. He describes a "pleasant life" and formerly had been seeking opportunities in the oil business. He presents himself as someone who takes whatever opportunity comes his way as long as the money is good and the work easy.

M. Bouc also stereotypes by nationality and gender. He hypothesizes that the crime was committed by someone with a passionate Latin temperament; in his opinion only a person of Latin ancestry could be "driven almost crazy with frenzied hate." He also thinks the killer might be a woman; to his mind women, like those of Latin descent, are more likely to commit crimes of passion.

When Poirot comments on the number of stabbings, he mentions it was 12 or 14 stabbings. Earlier, it was described as 10 or 15. Poirot is very methodical and detail-minded, but he makes this comment without knowing the true number of stabbings because the doctor has not yet counted them. The reader is left to wonder why the number of stabbings changed: is Poirot just being careless in his speech, or is there significance to the shift?

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