Poirot begins by notifying Mr. MacQueen of Ratchett’s death. MacQueen begins in “laborious” French, but soon lapses into English, which Poirot is conversant in. Poirot introduces himself as a detective, but he seems displeased when MacQueen has only a vague recognition of his name as a “woman’s dressmaker.”
Poirot’s facility with English is especially useful on a train with two Americans and two British passengers, and it creates the sense that he’s a well-traveled man of the world. At the same time, Poirot is played for comic effect. He clearly attaches some weight to his name and reputation, and MacQueen’s dismissive reaction punctures his vanity.
MacQueen doesn’t seem especially surprised at Ratchett’s death, saying, “so they got him after all.” He explains his history with Ratchett, relating the story of how he joined Ratchett as a personal secretary, since Ratchett was “hampered by knowing no languages.”
MacQueen gives as a primary reason for his employment with Ratchett the fact that the latter needed help with languages. But when greeting Poirot, MacQueen’s French was “laborious” and he soon gave up on it in favor of English, which Ratchett speaks fluently. Something doesn’t add up.
MacQueen supplies Poirot with several threatening letters sent to Ratchett and written in an over-the-top style: “We’re going to GET you—see?” The most recent was just days ago. Poirot identifies the letters as being written by multiple people, although he doesn’t seem impressed by them otherwise. After some probing, MacQueen reveals he knows little of Ratchett’s life and history, but he can’t pretend to have any affection for him.
In some mysteries, determining whether the victim had any reason to be killed is part of the investigation, but here, in the form of threatening letters, there’s a ready-made explanation. The diction of the letters, especially “see?” as a capstone to a threat, models a popular vision of 1930s gangsters closely—perhaps too closely.
Mr. MacQueen is dismissed, and although Poirot is reluctant to remove anyone from suspicion prematurely, as M. Bouc suggests, the sober and genial MacQueen doesn’t seem capable of the crime. M. Bouc suggests that the brutality of the murder makes it likely the product of a “Latin” temperament or a woman.
Poirot illustrates a bit of his method when he rejects M. Bouc’s attempt to nail down MacQueen as innocent of the crime. He has a careful, measured approach, but it’s also attuned to personality, and MacQueen’s doesn’t fit the profile. M. Bouc’s further suggestion of a Latin or a woman’s temperament shows, in its absurdity, the difference between Poirot’s meticulousness and M. Bouc’s wild speculation.