Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

by

Agatha Christie

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Murder on the Orient Express: Part 1 Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
 Poirot is taken to view Ratchett’s body in his cabin. Inside, the window is open, which Poirot thinks was intended to suggest the murderer left that way, but the snow makes it impossible. Poirot assumes that he will find no fingerprints because “criminals do not make mistakes of that kind nowadays.”
Poirot’s comment about mistakes criminals no longer make describes a sort of arms race carried on between detectives and criminals, where the latter learn how to foil the methods of the former, making detectives craftier or more inventive. This mirrors in its own way, the difficulty of the mystery novelist, whose crimes must be increasingly unpredictable or sensational as readers grow familiar with the tricks of the trade. If the solution to the case was the immediate discovery of fingerprints, it would make for a boring mystery novel.
Themes
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Dr. Constantine concludes that Ratchett was stabbed twelve times, but some blows are glancing while others are deep, some delivered by the left and some by the right hand—and, crucially, some were delivered after Ratchett was already dead. This suggests multiple murderers who may even have been unaware of each other.
Previously, Poirot had followed up on Ratchett’s comment that he had an enemy with the suggestion that he may have multiple enemies. The nature of the murder wounds seems to suggest that Poirot may have been right. But this provides an additional challenge: the need to prove multiple people guilty.
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Poirot begins to search the cabin. He finds a loaded gun under Ratchett’s pillow, and a mixture of a sleeping draught nearby.
These clues explain an inconsistency, namely that Ratchett didn’t scream as he was being murdered. He was under the influence of a sleeping drug. But it raises another contradiction: why did he have a gun at the ready to defend himself only to make sure he wouldn’t be able to wake up to do it?
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In a search of the cabin, Poirot finds a few items of evidence. The first is a woman’s handkerchief inscribed with an “H,” which was conveniently left behind, as Poirot says, “Exactly as it happens in the books and on the films.” Additionally, there’s a pipe-cleaner, deemed a “masculine clue,” and a pocket watch stopped precisely at 12:45, which Dr. Constantine assumes is the time of the murder, though Poirot is skeptical.
The investigation is only hours old, and already it has a wealth of evidence. Poirot’s skepticism about all this, especially the stopped watch, reflects a concern that these clues may be engineered to point the investigation away from the real murderer. His references to “books” and “films” is a particularly meta gesture to the constructed nature of both crimes and stories. Both anticipate a reader or a detective who will attempt to make sense of the details left behind. Poirot seems unimpressed that these heavy-handed clues are essentially clichés.
Themes
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Poirot also finds a scrap of burnt paper. He assembles a contraption to reveal the words imprinted on the scrap. As he does so, he explains to the doctor that “I am not one to rely upon the expert procedure. It is the psychology I seek…” but in this case he would welcome “scientific assistance.” He acknowledges that several of the clues found so far may be faked, but he believes this one isn’t. The scrap of paper reveals the words “little Daisy Armstrong” which reminds Poirot of a case in America.
Poirot finds the beginnings of a clue that he has to work for, which makes him more certain of its genuineness. A clue intended to be found doesn’t require a complex chemical reaction to reveal. This is a comparatively rare example, for Poirot, of detective work based on physical evidence. While this reveal would be the crux of the case for another detective, for Poirot it’s only the beginning. Normally, he seeks “psychology,” the inner workings of the suspects, to lay the case bare.
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Dr. Constantine raises the question of entrances and exits. The door to the hallway was bolted and the door to the adjacent cabin, Mrs. Hubbard’s, was bolted on the other side. Poirot notes that this is like an escape artist’s trick. Work has been done to make certain avenues of escape seem impossible.
Questions of entrances and exits reemerge here as a perennial concern of murder mysteries. Also, Poirot’s metaphor of the magician makes clear that the crime and its aftermath is a performance done for an audience. It’s for that reason that Poirot has a healthy skepticism of certain clues that Constantine and M. Bouc find definitive.
Themes
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