Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 3, Chapter 1 : Poirot Sits Back and Thinks (Which One of Them?) | Summary

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Summary

M. Bouc, Dr. Constantine, and Hercule Poirot reconvene in the dining car. After Bouc and Constantine tell Poirot they think it will be a miracle if he solves the crime, Poirot reveals a bit of what he has learned from the evidence he has collected so far. He says Hector MacQueen stated Samuel Ratchett was "hampered by knowing no languages" during their travels in Europe; this would mean he knew no French, so Ratchett could not have been the person who spoke to the conductor after his bell rang the night he was murdered. Someone was impersonating him, and that person is the murderer. This also shows Ratchett was not alive at 12:47 a.m., as previously believed, and the murderer speaks French. In addition the murder most likely did not take place at the time of the stopped watch, but earlier. Poirot believes the time the watch shows—1:15 a.m.—is the time the murderer left Ratchett's compartment.

Poirot explains the significance of the stopped watch. The hands were most likely stopped to provide an alibi for someone at 1:15 a.m. Anyone with such an alibi would now be a suspect. Similarly, the detectives need to pay attention to an earlier time because the murderer most likely entered Ratchett's compartment around 12:45 a.m.

Poirot has compiled key facts about each person he interviewed. The men pore over his list. Every single person, including Pierre Michel, the conductor, has an alibi for 1:15 a.m. Only three people have a possible motive for the murder. MacQueen, the personal secretary, and Edward Masterman, the valet, were associated with Ratchett, and Princess Dragomiroff had an intimate relationship with the Armstrong family and was godmother to Sonia Armstrong. The only tangible evidence against anyone is the pipe cleaner, which matches the type used by Colonel Arbuthnot. Several people have suspicious circumstances. Foremost is Mary Debenham's refusal to explain the overheard conversation. Edward Masterman is the only person of the right height to wear the wagon-lit uniform with the missing button. However, he most likely does not speak French. Bouc is stymied, but Poirot reveals he has another document that may be more illuminating.

Analysis

Hercule Poirot's detection methods are becoming clearer. Because he has interviewed everyone and viewed the crime scene and body, his next step is to look at the overall picture and how the details fit together. In doing so he spots an inconsistency: the dead man did not speak French. This alters the significance of the known facts and provides a new time when the death most likely occurred. It is still too small a clue to solve the murder, however.

Poirot's superior thinking skills are on display. M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine are worried the murder is unsolvable. They have no idea what to do next. In comparison Poirot is unruffled and confident. He has not solved the puzzle, but he knows he will.

Speaking in French when impersonating Samuel Ratchett—who did not speak French—reveals the murderer's overconfidence. Neither Constantine nor Bouc caught it, so the murderer may have assumed it would go unnoticed. And perhaps it would have if someone besides Poirot investigated the murder. Did the murderer take advantage of the fact that no police were on this part of the route?

True to form, Poirot parcels out what he knows. Rather than announcing all of his news at once, or even leading with his prime suspect or suspects, he presents bits of information showing how he connected clues.

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