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Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | Part 3, Chapter 2 : Poirot Sits Back and Thinks (Ten Questions) | Summary



Hercule Poirot presents a list of 10 things needing explanation. These items include identifying the owners of the pipe cleaner and handkerchief, the person who wore the scarlet kimono, and the person who impersonated the wagon-lit conductor; determining when the murder was committed and why the watch stopped at 1:15 a.m.; and figuring out how many people stabbed Samuel Ratchett.

M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine engage in a challenge of wits to try to answer these questions. They fail to identify the handkerchief's owner, but they do eliminate the maid as its owner as the item is too expensive for her to own. They are similarly unable to identify the pipe cleaner's owner. Although Colonel Arbuthnot owns that type of pipe cleaner, Bouc doubts he dropped it, as Arbuthnot is an Englishman. Constantine points out two dropped items is too obvious; he thinks one was intentionally and the other accidentally dropped. Because no one admits to owning the handkerchief, Constantine thinks it was left behind inadvertently and the pipe cleaner is the faked clue. These investigators, however, can't make headway with the kimono or the person who impersonated the conductor. After much thought Bouc theorizes the second murderer—the one who is left-handed and wore the scarlet kimono—arrived after the first murderer and moved back the watch's hands to give herself an alibi. Constantine praises Bouc's theory, but Poirot presents his own conclusion: the second person arrived after Samuel Ratchett was dead, stabbed him in the dark without knowing he was dead, and then took his watch out of his pocket, dented it, and moved the hands to provide an alibi.

Poirot admits he asked every interviewee to write something so he could identify if they were left- or right-handed. Everyone except Princess Dragomiroff—who refused to give a writing sample—wrote with their right hand. Poirot points out this is inconclusive because a person can write with one hand and use the other hand for a different function, so right-handed writers could stab with their left hand. Bouc and Constantine agree Dragomiroff is physically weak, but Poirot makes a comment about "influence of mind over body."

Dr. Constantine is convinced the murder was committed by two people. Poirot is less sure, saying he keeps asking himself if two murderers make sense. He tells the other men they have "thrashed it all out." They have all the facts, and the facts are "neatly arranged with order and method." Now his companions have to use their brains to solve the crime. He tells the other men to sit back and close their eyes "and think."


The chapters in this section focus on putting all the clues together to explain how the murder happened. To meet the standards for classic detective fiction, Christie needs to show the solution is plausible.

Poirot lets Bouc and Constantine have a shot at solving the crime by speculating about the answers to the 10 questions. He listens to them in a somewhat amused manner, agreeing when they make a point he has already arrived at and overriding Bouc when he thinks he is way off base. It is almost as if he is patronizing them by making them feel they are an important part of the investigation when all the while he has already deduced what he needs in relation to the list. In this way, Bouc and Constantine provide comic relief, as bumbling sidekicks to the intellectually superior detective.

Pieces that cannot be fit with others are the most significant. If all the pieces fit together except one, that one piece is the clue that will lead to the solution. In this chapter there are too many loose pieces to identify the single most revealing clue. But the time of death is no longer crucial. The men have fit together enough clues to support the premise that the watch was staged. The most vexing mystery at this juncture seems to be whether one or two people committed the murder. As Poirot says, the evidence on the body "does not make sense." Answering this question just might point the men in the right direction.

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