Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 14 : The Evidence (The Evidence of the Weapon) | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Constantine leaves Mrs. Hubbard in the care of a restaurant attendant and follows Hercule Poirot and M. Bouc to her compartment. There they view the straight-bladed dagger on the floor. "Stained with patches of what looked like rust," it is a cheap, Oriental dagger of the type widely sold in Eastern bazaars. The doctor confirms it is a weapon that could have inflicted Samuel Ratchett's wounds. Poirot states there is no need to examine it for fingerprints, with the unspoken understanding that any would have been wiped clean before Hubbard handled it.

Poirot then examines the door, its bolt, and the toiletries bag. Bouc describes what he thinks must have happened: The killer left Ratchett's compartment by the connecting door with Hubbard's compartment. The killer slipped the knife in the toiletries bag and slipped out the door into the corridor as Hubbard awakened. Poirot murmurs agreement but looks puzzled. Bouc calls him on it and wants to know what is troubling him. Poirot confirms something has caught his attention, but he says it is a small matter without saying what it is.

Hubbard refuses to sleep in a compartment next to a dead man, so she moves to another coach. There, Poirot reenacts the scene in which Hubbard was lying in bed and watched Greta Ohlsson check the door's bolt. With the toiletries bag covering the bolt, Hubbard could not have seen the bolt from her bed. Hubbard agrees; this is what she told Poirot before. When Poirot says Ohlsson must have made a mistake and thought the door was bolted when it wasn't, Hubbard states this was stupid of her. Hubbard then begins speaking of her daughter and becomes upset. Before leaving, Poirot asks permission to search her luggage, but he finds nothing of significance.

Analysis

The discovery of the weapon is another new and significant clue, but it provides little tangible evidence of how it was used. It is a commonly available knife, so its manufacture and type provide no information about its country of origin or its owner. Nor does it provide evidence of its last user, as it is most likely wiped of fingerprints. But it does provide support for the theory of how the killer left Samuel Ratchett's compartment. It is merely support—not confirmation. While highly probable, it is not definitive proof. The weapon could have been placed in Mrs. Hubbard's toiletries bag later, or it could have been staged shortly after the crime to draw suspicion on Hubbard or to falsely give the appearance the killer had left by that route.

Poirot is willing to accept the theory of how the knife got in Hubbard's toiletries bag as possibly or probably true, but he is puzzled by a contradictory piece of information. During her initial interview Hubbard stated she had seen Greta Ohlsson bolt the connecting door. If this is true, there is no way the killer could have entered Hubbard's compartment through the connecting door. Poirot has Hubbard moved to an identical compartment in a different coach, and he recreates the bolting scene. This reveals it was impossible for Hubbard to see the bolt because the toiletries bag hung over it; thus there is no proof the door was bolted. In fact it is likely the door was unbolted. This clears up the contradictory set of facts and makes plausible the theory of the killer escaping via Hubbard's compartment. Poirot now possesses evidence of how and when the crime most likely occurred.

In keeping with golden age detective fiction, the narrator offers a sanitized description of the knife, describing it as a "cheap affair ... with an embossed hilt and a tapering blade." There's no mention of blood; rather, there is a rust-like patch on the knife. The most titillating detail is the knife's tapering blade. Outside the realm of classic mysteries, other writers tended to describe murder weapons in sensational terms, emphasizing how deadly they are.

Poirot stays true to form and is unwilling to accept any detail without definitive proof, which causes him to question the claim that the door was bolted. He also continues to keep things close to his chest, telling M. Bouc something that doesn't fit has caught his attention but not sharing it. In one way, this fits his methodical style. He is not prone to speculation and prefers confirmation before expressing his thoughts. In another way, this is a literary device of Christie's. She unravels clues and information in a piecemeal fashion. Mention of Poirot being confused or puzzled alerts the reader that all is not what it seems. This gives the reader subtle notice to be on the lookout for a contradiction or false premise when fitting the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the crime.

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