Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 13 : The Evidence (Summary of the Passengers' Evidence) | Summary

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Summary

Now that everyone who might provide evidence has been interviewed, Hercule Poirot, M. Bouc, and Dr. Constantine review what they know and try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Poirot points out they have two types of information: "indisputable facts" and information supported by "a fair amount of evidence." Poirot reiterates the latter is circumstantial evidence, based on what the evidence suggests, and cannot be accepted as true. The one indisputable fact based on the evidence is that Samuel Ratchett was stabbed in 12 places and died the night before. The time of the crime is unknown. The watch suggests it happened at a certain time. While it may have happened at the time the watch stopped, it is just as possible the time was faked and the murder happened either before or after that time.

They next discuss the small, dark man with a womanish voice. There is no evidence to prove he exists. They have two witnesses who reported knowledge of him and two witnesses who provided indirect evidence supporting his existence. Cyrus Hardman said Ratchett told him about this man. Hildegarde Schmidt reported she has seen him. Neither of these reports is proof. Both witnesses could be lying. But two other witnesses, Colonel Arbuthnot and Hector MacQueen, reported seeing a conductor in the corridor when Pierre Michel stated he was elsewhere. These two indirect reports appear to confirm Schmidt's report.

Poirot laments he can't verify Hardman is a detective at a New York detective agency because he doesn't have the resources to do so. He only has Hardman's word. Yet Poirot says there's a good probability Hardman is telling the truth. His false passport automatically makes him an "object of suspicion," so if the police were involved in the investigation they would immediately cable to New York to learn if his story were true. Because Hardman knows he could easily be found out, Poirot thinks it is more likely he is telling the truth. He can't be cleared of suspicion, however, as his story has not been verified.

Bouc attempts to hurry up Poirot's meticulous method of "advancing a step at a time." He says everyone agrees the man exists, but where did the man go? Poirot corrects him and points out that until he knows such a man really exists, there is no need to ask where he went. Assuming the man exists, Poirot states the person could be hiding on the train "in a place of such extraordinary ingenuity" or could be a male or female passenger using a disguise. The only male passenger whose height matches the "small dark man" is Edward Masterman, the valet. The voice supports the possibility that a murderer is a woman, widening the number of possible female suspects.

Bouc and Constantine recount their joint conclusion based on the nature of the stab wounds. Both think the crime is absurd and impossible based on the facts they have so far. Bouc is especially upset at the possibility of two murderers on his company's train. Poirot brings up something new to show just how perplexing solving the crime is: two strangers were aboard the train the night before. One was the unidentified wagon-lit conductor seen by Schmidt, MacQueen, and Arbuthnot. The other was the woman in the red kimono seen by Mary Debenham, MacQueen, Michel, and Poirot himself and smelled by Arbuthnot. She is a tall, slim woman, but Poirot wonders if she could be the same person as the mysterious conductor.

Poirot announces the need to search the passengers' luggage for the scarlet kimono and the uniform worn by the mysterious wagon-lit conductor, which should be missing a button. He predicts the kimono will be found in a male passenger's luggage and the uniform in Schmidt's luggage. When Bouc asks if Poirot suspects her, Poirot says if she is innocent the uniform will be in her luggage. If she is guilty, it might be in her luggage. But before he can explain, Mrs. Hubbard barges into the dining car and announces she found a bloody knife in her toiletries bag, and then she faints.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot distinguishes between types of evidence and demonstrates his methodology of advancing one step at a time, highlighting what distinguishes him from M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine. His companions eagerly draw conclusions to solve the crime, but Poirot shows the folly of this approach. To identify the killer with absolute certainty, they cannot accept evidence at face value.

As Poirot attempts to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, it becomes clearer why he wanted to know so many details from the passengers. Facts that seemed inconsequential during the interviews, such as Colonel Arbuthnot's and Hector MacQueen's reports of seeing the conductor in the corridor, turn out to be very significant. This shows how even the smallest detail or something no one initially recognized as important can be the key to solving the murder. It explains why Poirot methodically asked each person to report everything they saw during the night before. He was scouring for details not only to build a timeline of every person's movements, but to spot inconsistencies or flaws in other people's reports.

Poirot is logical and analytical—maddeningly so at times, much to Bouc's dismay. While Bouc wants to solve the crime as soon as possible, Poirot wants to make sure he identifies the real killer. Bouc's priority is to restore some semblance of social order on his train and have things go back to normal. Poirot believes closing the case without identifying the killer is antithetical to restoring social order; if the killer remains free and unidentified, society is at risk.

Poirot's language also reveals how very discerning he is. He distinguishes between things that are possibly true, probably true, and undeniably true. For example he says the investigators can accept Cyrus Hardman's account of himself as probably true, but that doesn't mean it is true. Evidence must always be dissected until there is no doubt about its meaning; truth is discovered, not assumed.

The announcement about the bloody knife adds a new clue. Christie likes to sprinkle clues throughout the plot rather than have Poirot gather them all from the crime scene and interviews. This helps mix things up and send him off in different directions. Delaying the introduction of all clues makes it more difficult to solve the mystery. To further complicate things, some of these clues may be false, or misleading; they misdirect Poirot and the investigation—and readers, too.

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