Murder on the Orient Express | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, is a classic murder mystery set aboard a famous train line, the Orient Express, as it winds its way from Istanbul, Turkey, to Calais, France. Christie's cunning hero, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, is forced to take up the case of a grisly murder committed aboard the train. As in many of Christie's famous mystery novels, the detective must interview numerous suspects one by one until his sleuthing skills lead him to the culprit.

Murder on the Orient Express is considered one of Christie's greatest triumphs in the genre she helped popularize around the world. The novel was adapted to a 1974 film and helped solidify Christie's reputation as the "Queen of Crime."

1. Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by a real kidnapping.

Christie based Murder on the Orient Express on a horrifying, real-life kidnapping. Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped from his family home in New Jersey in March 1932. The child was abducted from his nursery, and a ransom note demanded $50,000. Police scoured the room for clues, and infamous gangster Al Capone even weighed in on the situation from prison, demanding to be released to provide assistance to police through his criminal connections. Although Lindbergh's family finally agreed to pay the ransom, they never saw their son alive again. His body was found mutilated in April of the same year. Police arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was later tried and sentenced to death by electric chair. At the time Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express, however, the culprit was still at large, and the case both intrigued and horrified the author.

2. The real Orient Express was also marooned in a blizzard.

Murder on the Orient Express borrowed heavily from a near-disaster that befell the real-life train as it worked its way across Asia. During the famous incident, the Orient Express became stuck in a terrible blizzard in Çerkezköy, Turkey, in 1929. The passengers were trapped aboard the motionless locomotive for more than six full days before the trip could recommence.

3. Christie traveled on the real Orient Express many, many times.

Christie was extremely well-traveled and made use of the real Orient Express across Eurasia during her career as an author. Her first solo journey aboard the train took place in 1928, and she traveled the route nearly another 60 times afterward. In 1931 she experienced a tense moment aboard, similar to the marooning of 1929, when heavy rainfall stopped the train for a full day.

4. Murder on the Orient Express first appeared under a different title.

When Murder on the Orient Express was first published in 1934, U.S. publishers changed the title to Murder on the Calais Coach. Though the novel appeared under its original title elsewhere, the American publisher wanted to avoid confusion with a popular novel from 1932: Orient Express by Graham Greene. Greene's novel also featured criminal activity aboard the lengthy train ride. Interestingly, U.S. publishers had also changed the title of Greene's novel for American audiences; it had been released as Stamboul Train in Europe.

5. Christie dedicated Murder on the Orient Express to her husband after the two traveled on the Orient Express for their honeymoon.

Christie met her husband, Max Mallowan, at the site of Ur, Iraq, after taking the Orient Express to Turkey. Mallowan was an archaeologist, and the two would later take the trip together many more times, including during their honeymoon, as he traveled to visit excavation sites in the Middle East. Thus the Orient Express was very dear to Christie, and she dedicated Murder on the Orient Express to Mallowan.

6. A famous hotel in Istanbul preserved a room where Christie allegedly wrote Murder on the Orient Express.

The Pera Palace hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, claims it is where Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express. While filming an adaptation, Warner Bros. studios requested the assistance of a psychic to help unravel the mystery of the novel's composition. The medium informed executives that Christie's spirit spoke the words, "The key to my disappearance lies at Pera Palas." Sure enough, a search of room 411 uncovered a key beneath the floorboards that allegedly unlocked Christie's diary. Unfortunately, a staff strike at Pera Palace led Warner Bros. to abandon their involvement with the hotel. Still, the residence preserved Christie's room. Most scholars agree that the entire Pera Palace tale is likely a fabrication—although Christie may very well have visited the hotel at some point.

7. Christie's last public appearance before her death was at a film premiere of Murder on the Orient Express.

Reportedly, the 1974 film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express was the only adaptation of any of her novels with which Christie was truly satisfied. She believed Albert Finney portrayed her Belgian detective protagonist, Poirot, as accurately as anyone could—though she was notably displeased with the actor's mustache. Christie died just over a year later, in January 1976.

8. The New York Times featured an obituary for Hercule Poirot.

Hercule Poirot was such a beloved fictional character that he received his own obituary in the New York Times. After Christie's publishers released the novel Curtain in 1975, which details Poirot's final days, the newspaper ran an obituary to memorialize the famed detective. The article read:

Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who became internationally famous, has died in England. His age was unknown. The news of his death, given by Dame Agatha, was not unexpected. Word that he was near death reached here last May.

9. One of the actors in the film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express demanded that his makeup be applied while he was asleep.

Albert Finney, who portrayed Poirot in the 1974 film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, was rather eccentric when it came to his makeup procedures. Because he was acting in a stage play while filming, he was unable to get a good night's sleep. To ensure he was well rested, Finney demanded that his makeup artists pick him up in an ambulance without waking him to begin the procedure en route. When they arrived at the studio, his handlers were careful not to wake him as the makeup details were completed inside.

10. A paleontologist used Murder on the Orient Express as a metaphor to explain a mass extinction event.

The paleontologist Doug Erwin used Murder on the Orient Express to showcase the mystery of a much greater loss of life—the mass extinction event at the end of the Permian era. There are many theories regarding the cause of this event, including volcanic activity, a sudden release of toxic gases into the atmosphere, an encroaching ice age, or a meteor collision with Earth. Erwin compared this myriad possibilities to the numerous suspects in the death of Ratchett aboard the Orient Express.

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