Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was born Agatha Miller to an upper-middle class family near the turn of the nineteenth century. Although her father died prematurely in 1901, she had a happy childhood. She was educated alternately at home and in Paris and grew into a devoted and voracious reader. Christie also displayed an early talent for writing, finishing her first novel in 1911, though she was unable to find a publisher for it. At the beginning of World War I, she married an army officer named Archibald Christie, but Archibald’s infidelity eventually led to their divorce in 1928. After the war, she published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the iconic detective Hercule Poirot, whom she based in part on Belgian soldiers she treated as a nurse in Torquay. In 1930, she traveled to Istanbul where she met her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan. The Middle East would become a setting for and influence on her mid-career novels. After returning to England, Christie wrote continuously for the rest of her life, interrupted only by a stint assisting in the pharmacy of University College Hospital in London during World War II. Christie wrote more than sixty detective novels, many featuring Poirot or Miss Marple, another recurring detective, and became the best-selling novelist of all time. She also wrote several more personal and conventional novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. In recognition of her long and brilliant literary career, she was honored as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1971. She died in Wallingford, England in 1976.
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Historical Context of Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie drew on her time treating Belgian soldiers during World War I to create the character of the fastidious, eccentric Hercule Poirot, whom she describes as a celebrated veteran of the war. Murder on the Orient Express specifically emerged from Christie’s fascination with the train route, which she rode first in 1928, and her time in Turkey and the Middle East. She wrote the novel almost entirely in a room at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. The kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong by the chief antagonist Mr. Ratchett was almost certainly inspired by a similar crime that captured the public imagination in the early 1930s. The young son of the famous aviator and American hero Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from his home in New Jersey in 1932. A ransom was demanded and paid, but the child was found dead only a few miles from the house. More globally, the solution of the crime in Christie’s novel hinges on the status of the United States as a nation of immigrants. Between 1880 and 1920, the United States received 20 million immigrants, mostly from Europe. Additionally, the circumstances of the crime and investigation in the novel may also have been inspired by a 1929 blizzard that trapped the Orient Express fifty miles out of Istanbul.

Other Books Related to Murder on the Orient Express

Detective fiction as a genre was still relatively young when Agatha Christie began writing. The American writer Edgar Allan Poe basically invented the genre in four stories in the mid-eighteenth century, introducing a recurring detective who used observation and logical deduction to solve mysteries. Christie loved Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories (such as The Hound of the Baskervilles), which established the detective protagonist as an eccentric and puzzling figure with a less savvy companion who allowed the detective to explain his reasoning. This dynamic is similar to the one between Poirot and Bouc in Murder on the Orient Express. Christie also admired The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux. Leroux’s novel was one of the first “locked room mysteries,” in which the commission of the crime and escape of the culprit seems impossible. The sealed train car on the Orient Express echoes this locked room conceit. Christie’s Hercule Poirot has been enduringly popular and influential for almost 100 years. Contemporary authors such as Sophie Hannah have even written new Hercule Poirot novels with the permission of Agatha Christie’s estate.
Key Facts about Murder on the Orient Express
  • Full Title: Murder on the Orient Express
  • When Written: 1929-1933
  • Where Written: Istanbul, Turkey
  • When Published: 1934
  • Literary Period: Golden Age of detective fiction
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Setting: A train car en route from Istanbul to Calais
  • Climax: The revelation that all twelve passengers murdered Ratchett
  • Antagonist: Mr. Ratchett, formerly Cassetti
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Murder on the Orient Express

Mysterious Disappearance. In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days, spurring a media sensation and a manhunt that even involved fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle. She was found alive and well at a hotel and spa in Harrogate. Today, biographers attribute the disappearance to an emotional crisis following the death of her mother.

Collecting Clues. While working at the University College Hospital pharmacy, Christie collected information on poisons that later appeared in her novels. For example, she learned about thallium from the chief pharmacist there and employed it in her 1961 novel The Pale Horse.