On the way back from Syria, Hercule Poirot takes the Orient Express. Oddly enough the train is very crowded for the time of year. While on the trip, Poirot is approached by a Mr. Ratchett who tries to hire Poirot to be his man sort of. Poirot doesn’t like the look of Ratchett and refuses. On the second night of the journey, Poirot hears a noise coming from Ratchett’s compartment, but later hears the man respond to the conductor’s question that nothing was the matter. A number of strange things happen that night including a woman in a scarlet kimono who bumps the door to his compartment. Oh yes! the train is stopped due to a snow storm.
The next morning, Poirot discovers that Ratchett is dead a victim of 12 stab wounds. The wounds are all different types-some deep and some shallow, some by a right handed person and some by a left handed person. Trying to solve the crime is quite a job because there seems to be a lot of evidence. It points to various people, and when part of the evidence is found in Poirot’s own cabin, its clear than some if not all of the evidence has been planted.
The strange thing about all the people in this particular car is the amount of nationalities present- Italian, Swedish, Russion, German, and a Scotsman. The only place to find that kind of diversity would be America. As it turns out, Ratchett’s true name is Cassetti. Years before, Cassetti kidnapped a 3 year old named Daisy Armstrong who was also an heiress. He asked for ransom, but killed the child anyway. The girl’s mother went into premature labor and died along with the child. The girl’s father committed suicide. The maid was suspected and jumped out of the window. She was cleared later on.
I’m not going to tell you who did it. I hope I told you enough to intrigue you! This was a convoluted mystery.
This my dear readers is the first Agatha Christie mystery published. It is also the first Hercule Poirot novel. I believe this answers one of the questions on one of the quizzes or tests that I created.
Capt. Hastings (the narrator)- he is on sick leave from the miliatary
Hercule Poirot- old friend of Hastings; he is in exile from Belgium
Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yar
Emily Inglethorp- the victim
Alfred Inglethorp-her much younger husband
John Cavendish, the elder stepson
Mary Cavendish, John’s spouse
Lawrence Cavendish,- John’s younger brother
Evelyn Howard- companion to the victim
Cynthia Murdoch- friend of the family
Dr. Bauerstein- toxicologist.
After an evening of entertaining, Emily Inglethorp is found poisoned in her locked bedroom. It turns out to be a case of strychnine poisoning. Strychnine is an alkaloid used as pesticides for rodents. During this time period, strychnine was used in medications as stimulant, a laxative, and treatment for stomach ailments. It seems everyone is a suspect- here gold digging husband, companion, best friend- it seems everyone has a reason for wanting dear Emily dead and gone.
The suspicion falls on the younger husband, naturally of course, because he gains the most under the will. Hastings calls in Poirot to help solve this befuddling crime. He discovers that early that day Emily was heard arguing with a man either her husband or stepson. Following this argument she made a new will which seems to be missing. The will had been in a document case in her bedroom. Two people are discovered to have bought strychnine days before the murder- Alfred and John. The only hitch in suspecting Alfred is that he left earlier that evening and spent the night in a nearby village; so he was not present to administer the poison. Then there is the next hurdle to overcome, which is that no one seems to know how the poison was administered. As typical in her novels, the police nab the wrong person, but Hercule Poirot always gets his man.
I find it difficult to figure out who’s done it in the Hercule Poirot novel. It’s not the logical deduction that’s the problem. It’s just the sheer amount of characters in the book. I mean keeping track of who touched what, when is quite difficult, especially as Poirot seems to interrogate people at random. But there were a fair amount of red herrings. As is his style, Poirot sets people up three ways from Christmas in order to entrap someone else. There are many times I found myself smacking my forehead. As a character Poirot is interesting. He operates, much like Miss Marple, by setting people up to under estimate him. It is constantly stated in this series that British people distrust foreigners. The British treat him as inferior. I suppose he is a great deal to blame as he will insist on acting like a fussy old lady. But underestimating him proves to be people’s undoing.
Ten Little Soldiers
Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were Four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little Soldier boys were out in the sun;
One got all frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
This little children’s poem becomes the plot in an ingenious murder plot. Ten people are invited to Soldier Island. Each receives different reasons for being invited to the Island. The letters are signed U. N. Owen. The cast of character is as follows:
Anthony James Marston, an amoral playboy.
Mrs. Ethel Rodgers, the nervous yet efficient housekeeper.
Mr. Thomas Rodgers, an efficient hard working butler.
General John Macarthur, a retired WWI hero.
Emily Brent, a spinster who is a religious zealot.
Justice Lawrence Wargrave, a retired stringent criminal judge.
Dr. Edward Armstong, a fashionable doctor.
William Blore, a retired investigator.
Philip Lombard, a fortune hunter.
Vera Claythorne, a former governess.
After the characters arrive at the Island, they start comparing notes as to their hosts. None of the stories match up. The story becomes stranger still when during dinner a gramophone plays the list of “murders” for which each guest is responsible. It seems everyone has a very dirty little secret in their past. It also appears that all ten have gotten away with murder. The “guests” notice that in the center of the table there are ten little soldier figurines. The more clever “guests” realize that U.N. Owen is a clever way of saying UNKNOWN.
That night before dinner is completely over, the first “guest” dies having “choked to death.” One by one each of the guest dies in accordance with the poem. Paranoia mounts as the survivors realize that the murderer is among them. Foes become friends who become foes. Within a few days, all the “guests” are dead. The police are at a loss. The coroner is unable to determine a time of death for any of the ten. They know roughly that certain people had to have survived certain people. But they have no idea Why any of this has happened. But then the crime is solved when the megalomaniac murdered sends a letter to the police. It seems he cannot bear to have people not realize or appreciate what he pulled off. It is jaw dropping!!!
This book reminded me greatly of A Pocket Full of Rye because the murders followed the nursery rhyme pattern. In hindsight the murdered was easy to spot. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before. It was quite a psychological thriller, because the characters really start going crazy due to guilt and fear. Well, be sure your sins will find you out!!!
Sing a song of six pence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King?
The King was in his counting house, counting all his money,
The Queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey,
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes
Along came a little dickey bird and nipped off her nose.
I’m sure all of use remember this little song from when we were children. In the hands of Dame Agatha Christie, this little ditty becomes a diabolical plot for murder.
Rex Fortescue, a rich businessman, is killed in his office. Oddly enough, he has a pocket full of grain. He was a right detestable fellow. The only question is why he wasn’t killed sooner!!! The police make their journey to the victim’s home at Yewtree Lodge. The suspicion falls on the usual suspects: the ultra-glam wife decades younger than him, the eldest son who was on the outs with him, a daughter who had her beau chased away by him, the disowned younger son, the unbalanced butler. Not to mention the widow and children of a man he probably left to die in Africa. The man certainly had no lack of enemies. But then there’s the question of how he was poisoned. It wasn’t in the tea, breakfast, or lunch.
The case becomes stranger still when the ultra-glam wife ends up dead in the parlor having scones and honey, and the maid is found a few hours later near the clothesline with a clothespin on her nose. The police are quite baffled. Enter Miss Marple. Miss Marple has a vested interest in finding the killer; the maid, Gladys Martin, had been an orphan Miss Marple trained to be a maid. Miss Marple and the police follow the clue of the blackbirds to find the killer.
This book was a little different from the other Miss Marple mysteries. In the other ones, Miss Marple is introduced fairly early on in the book. Most of the story is told from Miss Marple’s perspective. In this story, Miss Marple wasn’t introduced until the middle of the story. Most of the story is told from Inspector Neele’s perspective with moments of Miss Marple thrown in.
The ending surprised me a great deal. This story, like Cat Among the Pigeons, had more than one criminal plot going on. What was really interesting is that if Miss Marple had waited a day or two before going to Yewtree Lodge, she would have known who the murderer was from the beginning. It was ironic. Anyway, this is definitely one you should get from Barnes & Noble.