Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

At midnight, the famous Orient Express train is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, one of the passengers is dead – stabbed a dozen times. Isolated by a storm and with a killer onboard, detective Hercule Poirot must find the culprit.

The newest film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 murder mystery novel was released in UK cinemas in 3rd November 2017, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express]

I read Murder on the Orient Express for the first time around this time last year, and although I wrote notes, I never published a book review. However, after seeing the film adaptation last week, I thought it an appropriate time to revisit my notes and finally write a book review.

I really, really liked this book.

I haven’t read much by Agatha Christie, but I found her writing style surprisingly easy to read, which was a great way into the story.

Murder on the Orient Express is the first Poirot story I’ve ever read, though it’s the tenth published by Christie.

He is quirky and clever, drawing on stereotypes introduced by characters like Sherlock Holmes, such as the extraordinarily talented and secluded intellectual. Poirot, however, whilst he prefers solidarity, integrates with society in a polite and courteous manner and, to the best of my knowledge, does not struggle with an opium addiction. For these reasons, I enjoyed Poirot’s character more than Sherlock, and I liked reading Poirot work his way to conclusions.

I liked the mix of lots of characters, all trapped in one singular place, who all had different stories and personalities, and yet Poirot was able to find various connections between them in interesting and subtle ways.

Film Comment: I think this subtlety was lost somewhat when translated to the big screen, in the process of condensing the narrative into a just under 2-hour film.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express 2]

I thought the book was satirical, particularly in the interactions between Hercule Poirot, and his friend M. Bouc. This satire was carried across to the film, albeit in different ways.

In the book, Bouc is aware of the stereotypical methods of looking for clues, and subsequently thinks almost every object on the train is a clue. Undoubtedly, this is the approach the “untrained” mind – the mind of the reader – would take; Poirot satirises this with quips directed at Bouc, and instead leads the reader’s attention to the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant details, which are the most telling.

The final reveal of the culprit surprised me, challenging my own theories I’d created in my head and making me think in different ways.

Minor Spoiler: There was a reluctance to condemn the act of murder, because of the reason it was committed. I think murder is murder, and if we begin to justify some murder over others, regardless of intentions or motivations, it creates a risky, slippery slope of vigilante justice. Admittedly though, this frustration was admittedly drawn out more by the film adaptation.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I really liked the newest film adaptation as well; Branagh captured the character of Poirot well, and the cinematography was visually stunning. I recommend both!

News of a second Poirot film with Kenneth Branagh, an adaptation of Death on the Nile, is already spreading. If this is the case, I can’t wait to read Death on the Nile next.

– Judith

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Book Review: Find Her

‘”This is all of Flora, finally waking up.”‘

Find Her is a thriller by Lisa Gardner, and the eighth novel in her Detective D.D. Warren series.

Seven years ago, Flora Dane was kidnapped whilst on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure. Now, other women have gone missing and when Flora herself disappears, D.D. realises a far more sinister predator is out there, and it is up to D.D. to Find Her.

I read Find Her after a recommendation, so I had no idea that this was part of a series. Fortunately, for the most part, this didn’t affect my reading experience and I think Find Her works well as a standalone thriller. My one comment is that there was limited characterisation of D.D, but, in all honesty, this didn’t bother me. This is the eighth book featuring D.D. and so Gardner probably imagined her readers knew plenty about her already. Furthermore, I preferred reading about the character of Flora; she is a fascinating woman shaped and changed by severe trauma and dramatic experiences.

The narrative switches between different perspectives of Flora – “past” Flora is narrated in flashbacks and “present” Flora is narrated in real-time – as well as between the perspective of D.D. This was a great technique, although it initially took me a while to adjust to, and I began the novel a little confused at what was going on.

The switching perspectives of Flora linked her past experience to her present experience, exemplified by using similar language in each narrative, creating enjoyable and significant parallelism, rather than monotonous repetition.

At times though, the writing felt a little stereotyped, because although it was language one would expect in a crime thriller or murder mystery, it didn’t feel natural. However, for the most part, I was completely engrossed by the writing and the story and I read Find Her in just a few days.

I really enjoyed the drama throughout the book, and the ending was very powerful. Despite the victims of Find Her being female, it didn’t feel like a clichéd “damsel in distress” narrative, which I thought was great, and instead the narrative was raw and emotional and held the right pace.

I strongly recommend Find Her; I enjoyed it so much, I may even read it again!

– Judith

Book Review: The Teacher

‘In the assembly hall of an exclusive Devon school, the body of the head teacher is found hanging from the rafters. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end.’

The Teacher is a contemporary crime thriller by Katerina Diamon, in which DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must work together in order to stop a series of grim murders, and uncover the identity of the killer.

This is a well-written book*; the narrative switched character perspectives, as well as forwards and backwards in time, which I liked. I was able to follow the story clearly, although it took me a while to piece certain characters or details together.

The dialogue felt completely natural and the short chapters kept my focus and moved the narrative along at a nice pace.

*Ironically, the first few chapters of the book seem to have not been proofread – the amount of missing punctuation and spelling mistakes were quite glaring, but I was fortunate that my particular charity shop copy had been re-edited by the previous owner with a Biro!

This book is probably one of the goriest thrillers I’ve ever read; no gruesome details were spared when it came to descriptions. Indeed, no topics were spared from The Teacher either – the book covers murder, suicide, rape and victim-blaming, gory violence, and extremist viewpoints.

I really enjoyed the thrills, uncovering the mystery behind the murders, and watching how the characters develop and link to one another.

However, there are some parts of The Teacher that wound. me. up.

Spoiler Warning: Minor

Firstly, a victim of rape is not believed when the incident is reported, and is blamed instead. I really felt for the character in these frustrating and upsetting moments – I can’t imagine what it must be like to have gone through such a horrific incident and have it dismissed as falsehood. Whilst The Teacher is merely a fiction, sadly, this situation is reality for some rape victims today.

Secondly, certain characters have different, warped perceptions of morality and subsequently, what is right and what is wrong. For some, the act of murder is seen as the crime it is, others see murder as justifiable if done in revenge, others see murder as an entirely acceptable act.

It was incredibly difficult to read the thoughts and dialogue of characters with such a vastly differing moral compass to my own, and it’s tricky to discuss this further without revealing some serious spoilers.

Yet, whilst these parts of The Teacher infuriated me, they still added to my overall enjoyment of the book, and I was glad Diamond’s writing was able to provoke such a strong emotional response from me.

I strongly recommend this book if you can stomach some gore and want to read a well-written, thrilling murder mystery.

– Judith