Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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

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Summary

Hercule Poirot reinterviews Hector MacQueen. With little preamble, Poirot tells him Samuel Ratchett's true identity. MacQueen is flabbergasted and indignant. His own father was the district attorney who prosecuted Cassetti for the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping and murder. MacQueen says he would have cut off his right hand before knowingly working for Ratchett and expresses satisfaction that Ratchett is dead, saying he deserved "what he got" because he was not "fit to live." Poirot asks him if he would have been willing to kill Ratchett himself. MacQueen affirms he would and then blushes, realizing he has somewhat incriminated himself. Poirot tells him it would be more suspicious if he expressed "an inordinate sorrow at [his] employer's death."

MacQueen asks how Poirot learned Ratchett's identity. Poirot tells him about the charred letter fragment found in Ratchett's compartment, to which MacQueen replies it was "rather careless of the old man." Poirot replies, "That depends on the point of view."

Poirot then asks MacQueen to describe his movements the night before from the time he left the dining car. Eager to clear himself, MacQueen complies. He had briefly gone out on the platform at Belgrade. When he came inside, he talked to Mary Debenham and then Colonel Arbuthnot. Next, he delivered some letters to Ratchett's compartment. While returning to his compartment, he ran into Arbuthnot, and the two went to his compartment and talked, with the door open, until nearly 2:00 a.m. They both got off the train at Vincovci but came back inside right away because it was bitterly cold out. They left the train by the door nearest to their compartment, and MacQueen does not recall bolting it again when they came inside. The only other person MacQueen saw after the Vincovci stop was a woman wearing a scarlet kimono who passed him going toward the toilet, but he never saw her face. After Arbuthnot left for his own compartment, he called the conductor, who made up his bed while he smoked a cigarette in the corridor. Poirot's last question is whether MacQueen and Ratchett usually traveled second-class. MacQueen states they usually traveled first but he had taken a second-class compartment this time because there were no other vacancies.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot reveals more about his investigative methods. He calls Hector MacQueen back for another interview and bluntly announces Samuel Ratchett's true identity so he can get MacQueen's gut reaction. By surprising MacQueen with this information, MacQueen has no time to formulate a prepared response. He reveals his genuine feelings, soon realizing in doing so he is giving cause to be viewed as a suspect. Poirot, though, is a seasoned detective and knows how to interpret interviewees' responses. MacQueen has passed the test. If he had expressed dismay at Cassetti's death, Poirot would have found it suspicious. Poirot will use a similar technique later in his investigation: deliberately saying something to see what reaction he will get. In some cases, he will do so by pretending to know something he does not know, just to find out what the interviewee will say.

Readers will note how Poirot treats MacQueen differently from Pierre Michel. Poirot had no reason to tell Michel the real identity of the murder victim, but he has a strong reason to tell MacQueen. He also tells MacQueen how he discovered the victim's true identity. Poirot held details about the crime close to his chest when interviewing Michel, but now he is releasing them.

True to form, Poirot refuses to jump to conclusions, even when it seems reasonable to do so. MacQueen thinks Ratchett was careless when he failed to burn the entire paper containing Daisy Armstrong's name. Rather than agreeing, Poirot says it depends on the point of view. Because it would not be in Ratchett's best interest to leave this information visible, Poirot must be referring to someone else's point of view—someone who wanted to reveal Ratchett's connection to the Armstrong case. Poirot again assumes the clues are not what they seem. As the burning may have been staged, he must consider: who would want Ratchett's identity known, and why?

Poirot knows he is looking for people with a connection to the Armstrong case or family, and he has learned MacQueen has such a connection. Yet he does not seem to consider this connection of value. Is it merely a coincidence that a murderer and the son of the man who prosecuted him would be in an employer-employee relationship? Or does this connection give MacQueen a strong motive for murder?

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