Murder on the Orient Express Study Guide

Murder on the Orient Express By Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot, detective extraordinaire, is returning home from Syria aboard the Orient Express. The train is unusually crowded for the time of year, and Poirot only manages to get on by leveraging his connections.

One night, as they pass near Belgrade, a series of noises and a case of dry mouth interrupt Poirot's sleep several times. Of note, at one point he sees a woman in a scarlet kimono retreating down the passage in the distance.

The next day, he awakens to find that the man in the room next to his, one Mr. Ratchett, is dead, stabbed twelve times. Some of the wounds are deep and others are shallow; some were inflicted by a right-handed person and others by a leftie. Several other clues litter the cabin, but each points to a different suspect or suspects, and he believes some or all of them may be planted.

Poirot investigates and learns that Ratchett was in fact a fugitive who once kidnapped and murdered a three-year old girl named Daisy Armstrong, despite having received a large ransom for her return - and hearing of her death sent her pregnant mother into premature labor, in which both she and her child died. Her husband subsequently shot himself in grief, and the family's maid killed herself when suspicion of her complicity ruined her life (but she was later found innocent).

Mounting evidence points at each and every single person on the train, as it turns out that every one of the twelve other passengers was somehow related to the Armstrong family. Poirot puts forth two theories: one, that a random gangster rival of Ratchett got on the train at one stop, killed him, and then jumped off, deliberately planting evidence to cover his trail; and two, that all twelve people present did it together, each stabbing him once so one could be definitively blamed for striking the killing blow.

The group breaks down and admits that Poirot's second theory is correct; they all killed Ratchett together. Poirot asks the train's director which theory is more reasonable, and they agree that the first theory is the one that they should tell the police. Poirot thus is able to "retire with honor from the case", satisfying his legal duty while simultaneously satisfying his inner need for justice -- in this case, the justice inflicted on the criminal by those he wronged.

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