Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 2, Chapter 5 : The Evidence (The Evidence of the Swedish Lady) | Summary

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Summary

Hercule Poirot interviews Greta Ohlsson, the Swedish lady. He starts out by asking for her personal data. She gives him her age and address and says she is a trained nurse working in a missionary school near Stamboul. Poirot explains she may be the last person to have seen Samuel Ratchett before he was killed. Ohlsson describes her actions of the night before, which match Mrs. Hubbard's report. Once she returned to her own compartment, she took an aspirin and lay down but was unable to sleep until sometime after the stop at Vincovci. She confirms the Englishwoman sharing her berth had not left the compartment after Vincovci. Poirot asks several personal questions, such as why she is taking the trip. Ohlsson states she is taking a holiday and visiting her sister, whose information she provides. Poirot then asks if she has ever been to America and if she has ever heard of the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping case. She says she had not, and when he tells her about it, she becomes indignant.

After she leaves, Poirot makes a list of events and their times based on visitors to Ratchett's compartment, Ratchett's bell ring, Mrs. Hubbard's report of a man in her compartment, and the train's departure and stops. M. Bouc thinks the chronological events prove the murder was committed at 1:15 a.m. by the Italian man, Antonio Foscarelli.

Bouc puts forth the following as evidence:

  • The watch stopped at 1:15 a.m.
  • Mrs. Hubbard's story fits with the time of the stopped watch.
  • The Italian man comes from America, specifically Chicago.
  • A knife is an Italian weapon.
  • Ratchett was stabbed multiple times.

He supplies the following motives:

  • He and Ratchett were in the Armstrong kidnapping together.
  • Cassetti is an Italian name.
  • Ratchett double-crossed the Italian man, causing him to seek him out, threaten him, and murder him.

Poirot doubts Bouc's theory, saying, "It is hardly as simple as that." He mentions how the Italian's compartment mate, Edward Masterman, swears the Italian never left the compartment.

Analysis

Greta Ohlsson appears to be a pious and humble woman. She works in a missionary as a nurse and is easily embarrassed by sexually suggestive comments. As he did with the others he had already interviewed, Hercule Poirot asks questions that will give him insights into her character and personal motivations. As he did with a few others, he asks her to write down contact information. It may seem like he wants this information in case he needs to contact her after the train journey, but because he hopes to solve the murder before the Yugoslavian police come aboard, that's not the case. Instead he wants to see Ohlsson write. Readers wonder what he is looking for: To find out who is right-handed and who is left-handed? Or something else?

M. Bouc continues to use circumstantial evidence and generalizations about people based on their nationalities to identify the murderer. He takes statements from Hubbard and Ohlsson at face value. Combined with the stopped watch, he thinks the evidence is clear. He uses commonly held stereotypes about Italians to select a killer and disregards evidence pointing to the man's being unable to commit the crime at the supposed time of 1:15 a.m. The evidence not fitting together neatly does not disabuse Bouc of his theory.

True to his nature, Poirot does not take any of the evidence at face value. He is unlikely to accept any theory; instead he will require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ensure he identifies the real killer.

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