Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 1 : The Evidence (The Evidence of the Wagon Lit Conductor) | Summary

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Summary

Before meeting with the conductor Pierre Michel, Hercule Poirot asks M. Bouc about his employee. Bouc vouches for Michel's reliability and says he has been with the company for more than 15 years. In addition, he says he is a Frenchman, so he is "thoroughly respectable and honest," if not overly bright. An extremely nervous Michel anxiously expresses his hope that Bouc and Poirot do not consider his actions negligent in any way. Poirot soothes his fears and then asks basic questions to put him at ease.

Poirot then asks Michel a series of questions about the previous night's events. Michel tells Poirot when Samuel Ratchett retired to his compartment, who went into his compartment, and the events related to the last time he heard him. He reports on his own actions and everyone he saw or heard after the last time he heard Ratchett. He sat on his seat facing the corridor until he took a brief break shortly after 1:00 a.m. and went into the next coach to talk with a fellow worker. He returned when a bell rang; it was Mrs. Hubbard calling him. He then answered Poirot's bell and made up MacQueen's bed half an hour later. Colonel Arbuthnot was with MacQueen before he went to his own compartment. After they retired, Michel sat in the corridor for the rest of the night. The only other person he saw was a woman in a scarlet kimono who went to the toilet at the other end of the coach.

When Poirot asks him if he saw or heard anything else, Michel mentions seeing Poirot open his door and look out. Poirot praises his response, saying he wondered if he would remember that. Poirot mentions the sound of something falling against his door, which had awakened him, and asks Michel if he knew what caused the sound, but Michel says he has no idea. Poirot then asks questions to verify the killer could not have left the train or could not have joined the train the night before and be hiding somewhere. Bouc and Michel confirm both were impossible. Michel also confirms no one could have come from another coach, because the door between the ordinary coaches and sleeping coaches is locked. Michel states the door at the other end, between the sleeping coach and restaurant car, is also locked, but Poirot informs him it is currently unlocked, much to Michel's surprise. Michel asks Poirot if he blames him, and Poirot tells him, "You have had the evil chance, my friend." He asks about another bell, which was Princess Dragomiroff calling the conductor and asking him to summon her maid. Poirot ends the interview and tells the conductor not to distress himself, as he can see no negligence.

Analysis

In this first of 12 chapters in which Hercule Poirot interviews the passengers and the conductor, Poirot demonstrates his textbook manner for police interrogations. He gathers basic information about the interviewee before meeting with them. He starts the interview with routine questions to put the interviewee at ease—and to match his answers with what he already knows about the person. Next, he asks questions about the night of the murder. His purpose is fourfold. He wants to find out what the interviewee was doing and when so he can clear the person or identify them as a suspect. He wants to obtain information about what they saw and heard, to see if there is anything useful that could be a new clue. Closely related to this, he wants to learn about the other passengers' movements and actions so Pierre Michel's answers can provide either an alibi or raise a suspicion about what they later report. Finally, he wants to obtain information about his own and the other passengers' movements and actions to create a timeline of events related to the murder.

After Michel volunteers everything he knows, Poirot asks if there is anything else, trying to get Michel to remember every detail about the previous night. His repeated questioning helps because Michel remembers seeing Poirot open the door. This is a common investigative technique, as a person being interviewed may not recollect everything or may think something is too minor to mention. Poirot mostly refrains from sharing any insights or questions with his interviewee; this is another common investigative practice. Sharing information could influence the person's responses, making them say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. At the end of the interview, Poirot assures Michel he is not considered a suspect, although he uses careful wording: "I cannot see that there has been any negligence on your part." This is quite different from saying, "You have not been negligent." By using a qualifier, he leaves himself the option to change his opinion if he learns something new.

As is typical in Christie's books, Michel's character is defined by his nationality. M. Bouc equates his being French with being "thoroughly respectable and honest."

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