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Sunday, August 31, 2014
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, Poirot at his peak
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (Hercule Poirot #10)
$3.99 Kindle edition, availble now
Rating: 5* of five, mostly for the Agatha Christie's Poirot adaptation
The Publisher Says: Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. A passenger lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
My Review: Well, that was a concise-to-the-point-of-terseness summary. But I suspect most of us who are voracious or even simply serious readers of mystery fiction don't need too much more than that to recall the details to mind.
The novel, published in 1934, is a bit of a stretch for a modern mystery-reader's sense of fair play. Poirot's famous/infamous "little gray cells" are pumpin' full-bore and lead him to near-miraculous feats of deduction. The novel's Poirot is, at the end, almost cavalier about the hugely out-of-character ending. It almost feels as if Christie said to herself, "Self, I've had enough of this character's ethics and am writing MY ending not his."
Her book, her rules.
The filmed version offers more scope for fair play with the reader as Poirot is seen to do things and discover things that lead him to a startling and evidently disturbing conclusion. In keeping with the films' expansion of the Poirot character, the book's resolution is more nuanced, and affords a modern viewer more satisfaction in that the character of Poirot is clearly emotionally involved in the murder's resolution and becomes a richer, more relatable person as a result.
Both versions of the story are so improbable as to be absurd, on the face of it. But in a world run on decent principles, such a story and such a resolution would be more common than not. I feel very Old-Testament-y about people who harm children or animals for cruelty or sport.
The film's other deviations from the novel are also deepening the sense of Poirot's reality as a person, and indicative of just how very surprising this ending is within the understanding Christie has given us of Poirot's essential relationship to crime-solving. A scene at the beginning of the film, between Poirot and a soldier, is particularly important in setting the tone for this story's exceptional place in the Poirot canon. Another early scene in Istanbul is, in my opinion, gratuitous; well conceived, but not necessary, and frankly unpleasant in the light it sheds on Poirot.
But the sheer visual beauty of this film! The pitch-perfect Poirot of David Suchet! Ah mes amis, this is the treat most exceptional, this feast is the repast most gustatorial for the lover of the how you call a crime drama. It is the pleasure most complete. Replenish yourselves and your little gray cells!
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