Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 1, Chapter 7 : The Facts (The Body) | Summary

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Summary

Hercule Poirot and Dr. Constantine go to Samuel Ratchett's compartment to view the body and examine the crime scene. Constantine confirms nothing has been touched and the body has not been moved. The window is open, and the blinds are drawn up. Poirot blows powder on the window frame, and no fingerprints appear; it has been wiped clean.

They then examine the body. Ratchett is lying on his back, his pajama top bloodstained and unbuttoned. Constantine reports 12 stab wounds of different intensities. Two are so slight as to be almost scratches. Three are severe enough to cause death. Two wounds appear to have been inflicted after death; they probably severed blood vessels, yet their edges don't gape as they would if blood had seeped through them. One wound is clearly made by a left-handed person; others are made by a right-handed person. These variations lead Poirot and the doctor to suspect at least two murderers. Poirot hypothesizes one person stabbed Ratchett and left, turning off the light. Later, a second person entered the compartment and, without turning the light on, stabbed Ratchett, not realizing he was already dead. While the doctor is impressed with this theory, Poirot is not. He thinks it is a little too neat and asks if this is a "coincidence or what." He also wonders if other inconsistencies suggest two people are involved. The doctor says some of the wounds required great strength but the "feeble, glancing blows" could have been made by a weak person.

The inspectors find Ratchett's pistol under his pillow, his clothing on hooks, false teeth in a glass of water, a flask, an empty glass, a mineral water bottle, an ashtray with charred paper fragments, and two burned matches. The doctor sniffs the empty glass and announces the victim was drugged, which explains why he did not cry out or resist. Poirot notices the matches are of two different shapes, indicating one was brought into the compartment by the murderer and used to burn something, most likely what is in the ashtray. Poirot also finds two objects on the floor: a dainty handkerchief and a pipe cleaner. Because Ratchett seemed unlikely to carry a dainty handkerchief and he smoked cigars rather than a pipe, the objects likely belong to the murderer or murderers: a man and a woman. What neither Poirot nor the doctor can tell is if they were intentionally or accidentally left.

The doctor finds Ratchett's watch in his pajama jacket's pocket. It is severely dented and stopped at quarter past one. Constantine enthusiastically uses the stopped watch's time to confirm his earlier speculation fixing the time of death around one o'clock. Poirot says it is possible but does not agree with the doctor. Instead he says he "understand[s] nothing at all." He says the only definite clue is the flat match; all the other clues could be fake. Deciding to conduct an experiment, Poirot asks the train conductor to bring him two hatboxes from the women passengers' compartments and a small portable stove and tongs from his own. Poirot removes a mass of wire netting from one of the hatboxes. He flattens out the wire and places the charred paper scraps on it. Then he puts this over the lit small portable stove, now holding the papers with the tongs. Gradually a few words appear: "—member little Daisy Armstrong." Poirot declares he knows Ratchett's real name—Cassetti—and why he left America.

The men again examine the room and body to make sure they did not overlook anything. As they prepare to leave, Constantine asks how the murderer left the compartment. Poirot says this is what an audience asks when a performer makes a bound person disappear from a cabinet. He says the murderer staged the scene to make it look as if the window was used for escape, but exiting that way was impossible due to the snowdrift. The other two exits were also impossible. So what they have is the disappearing person in the cabinet trick, and it is up to Poirot to "find how the trick is done."

Analysis

Hercule Poirot begins to show how he earned his reputation as a detective par excellence. Dr. Constantine is quick to take things at face value and accept conclusions based on circumstantial evidence, such as Poirot's hypothesis about a second killer stabbing an already-dead Samuel Ratchett and using the stopped watch to verify the time the crime occurred. But Poirot realizes the first is merely a theory and the latter could be faked. At least one thing has obviously been faked, such as the open window; the deep snow makes it impossible for anyone to have escaped in this way. The two objects on the floor, one a man's and the other a woman's, seem to have been left to intentionally mislead any investigators. Poirot's difficulty will be distinguishing between fake and real clues.

At first, the only clue Poirot knows for sure is real is the match with the flat edge. It differs so slightly from the other matches that whoever used it did not think anyone would notice. The words Daisy Armstrong, which appear on the charred scrap of paper, give him a second clue and a motive for the murder. Now he needs to find out which passengers have a connection to Daisy Armstrong.

Poirot reveals his detecting style when he says he seeks "the psychology," not the fingerprints or ashes. Even if real, the tangible clues, such as the handkerchief and pipe cleaner, provide little information on their own. Poirot needs to know about the behavior and characters of the passengers on train. These factors will help him interpret the physical evidence at the crime scene and understand its significance.

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