A New Look at Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, a classic murder mystery leads me down a winding path.


Murder on the Orient Express.114 min. Kenneth Branagh, dist. by 20th Century Fox. Nov. 2017. DVD UPC 024543393924. Feb. 2018. $12.74. DRAMA/MYS/CRIME FICTION
Agatha Christie wrote a number of mysteries featuring the eccentric and honorable Hercule Poirot before putting the famous Belgian detective on a train in Istanbul. Here, actor and director Branagh steps into the indelible investigator’s shoes and creates a visually arresting cinematic experience. While aboard the sumptuous Orient Express, Poirot meets an all-star cast of characters—each of whom seems to have something to hide. When a brutal murder occurs, Poirot must solve the case. Many viewers will already know the outcome, but plenty will not, and Branagh gives both groups much to enjoy in this mix of broad laughs, seething evil, stunning scenery, and moral ambiguity.


Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express.
100 min. Philip Martin, Acorn Media. 2014. DVD UPC 054961261697. $19.99.
Murder on the Orient Express. 131 min. Sidney Lumet, dist. by Paramount Pictures. 1974. DVD UPC 097360879049. $19.94. MYS/DRAMA
For viewers interested in how other actors portrayed Poirot or how different directors dealt with this particular case of murder, suggest these two lauded examples. David Suchet reprises the role in Martin’s grittier, grimmer, and far more unsettling creation, which underscores exactly what happened on that train and the full costs of murder.

In many reviews, Lumet’s version is compared to Branagh’s (Lumet often comes out on top), while Martin’s TV adaptation exhibits how rich and tonal shows on the small screen can be. To some extent, Branagh re-creates Lumet’s superstar cast, led by Albert Finney (Poirot) and Ingrid Bergman (who won an Oscar for her role as Greta). Viewers should also find pleasure in how both productions unfold and how actors historically filled the roles now taken by modern stars.


Gosford Park. 128 min. Robert Altman, dist. by Universal Studios. 2002. DVD UPC 002519222812. $9.99.
Inspector Morse. Various, dist. by ITV. 1988. Streaming via BritBox.
For another stylish, large-cast mystery in which secrets power the story, suggest Altman’s elaborately filmed whodunit, set in a wonderfully grand country home. Written by Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park has plenty of Downton Abbey–ness about it, but fans of Branagh’s film will most enjoy the lavish detail and mixed motives of the characters.

For a more brooding series that considers the many shadows of life yet offers some bright notes in ways similar to Branagh’s film, suggest the long-running screen series of Colin Dexter’s “Inspector Morse” novels. This series ran for more than a decade and is still being spun into various iterations—attesting to its ongoing popularity. Morse, like Poirot, is a smart yet flawed figure, specific in his desires and ways of seeking justice. The two would likely drive each other mad, but they would appreciate each other’s skills.


Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie. Morrow. Oct. 2017. ISBN 9780062838629. $21.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061753824.
The Monogram Murders: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah. Morrow. 2015. ISBN 9780062297228. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062297235.
All film adaptations take liberties with the content of their associated novels—for good and ill—which is why reading the book, before or after seeing the movie, presents such a new experience. Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s most famous mysteries and delivers what she is known for: a craftily plotted murder, multiple suspects, plenty of misdirection, red herrings, and an involving pace.

Those wanting to read beyond Christie can turn to Hannah, who was picked by the Christie estate to continue the cases of Hercule Poirot. In this series opener, Hannah delivers the famous detective, a triple murder, a mysterious and gruesome calling card, a Scotland Yard detective, and plenty of the tracings of the golden age mysteries from which Poirot was born.



Original Sin by P.D. James. Vintage. (Adam Dalgliesh, Bk. 9). 2009. ISBN 9780307455574. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307822529.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Harper. 2017. ISBN 9780062645227. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062645241.
Readers who relish detailed classic mysteries but wish for storytelling with a more contemporary worldview might enjoy the “Adam Dalgliesh” series by James. Dalgliesh is a commander with Scotland Yard, a brilliant man, like Poirot, with a decided personality. As does Orient Express, his cases veer toward dark themes of loss. This puzzle of mixed motives and plenty of suspects uses a classic mystery trope and is set in a London publishing house.

Another story set in publishing is Horowitz’s clever and delightful blend of golden age mystery and modern murder. The first part, featuring an actual mystery novel manuscript, will hook Christie fans yearning for something fresh. The second half of this double mystery, an investigation into the death of the author of the ms, echoes a central point of Branagh’s film—truth will out.


Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie. Read by Dan Stevens. 6 CDs. 6.30 hrs. HarperAudio. 2013. ISBN 9780062265913. $29.99.
Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Read by John Moffatt and a full cast. AudioGO/OverDrive. 2004. ISBN 9780563478348. $26.95.
In Murder on the Orient Express, narrator Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) performs Poirot with verve, delivering the great detective with a lovely accent and rhythm. Stevens also exhibits an astounding dexterity with the voices of the other characters on the train, so much so that listeners will be convinced it is a multicast performance. As he slips back into his regular speaking voice for the exposition, he showcases his storytelling skills all the more.

Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express stars reader Moffatt as Poirot in this BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatization. This version is augmented with sound effects and a musical track, producing a quick, lively rendition that nicely immerses listeners in the case along with a varied soundscape. Note that Kenneth Branagh reads the latest recording, but given listeners will experience him on screen, it is worth offering them the variety of these two productions.


1222 by Anne Holt. Read by Kate Reading. 9 CDs. 10.65 hrs. Blackstone. 2011. ISBN 9781455128815. $29.95.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. Read by Robert Bathurst. 11 CDs. 13.30 hrs. Macmillan. 2016. ISBN 9781427274403. $39.99.
Holt’s eighth Hanne Wilhelmsen novel involves a train derailment in the mountains that forces a group of strangers to weather a blizzard in a secluded hotel. Narrated by Reading, who possesses impressive skills for accents and pace, it pairs well with Orient Express, revealing a case from which there is no escape. With multiple games afoot, it stars a determined and smart detective with little choice but to solve the crime.

If Holt’s novel appeals, Penny’s increasingly dark Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels also might suit, particularly A Great Reckoning, which asks a number of moral questions and sees Gamache at his most gentle and relentlessly determined. Bathurst (Downton Abbey) shows great range in re-creating the work’s emotional landscape and stressing character relationships.


Viewers wanting more Christie (but not Poirot) can turn immediately to 2016’s And Then There Were None and also look forward to Crooked House, coming to theaters December 22.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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