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Literature / Murder on the Orient Express

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Murder on the Orient Express, or Murder in the Calais Coach, is an Agatha Christie detective fiction murder mystery first published in 1934.

Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, is ready to return from a case in Syria when he is snowbound on the Orient Express. He is disturbed in his sleep by dead quiet and a passing figure in a red kimono, and when he awakes, a male passenger named Samuel Ratchett is found dead, having been stabbed 12 times. Poirot discovers he was actually a notorious American gangster named Lanfranco Cassetti, who had kidnapped and murdered a three-year-old heiress. The mystery begins to unravel as he discovers that 12 of the other 14 passengers and the Train's conductor have connections to the dead man and the family of the child that man murdered.

The Films of the Book:


Warning: Many unmarked spoilers are below, as the plot is extremely well known.


Murder on the Orient Express provides examples of:

  • Acquitted Too Late: The Armstrong's maid was suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of Daisy and Driven to Suicide by this. Only afterwards was it officially proven that she wasn't involved. note  Indeed, several of the people involved in Cassetti's execution are avenging her just as much as Daisy.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The sisters Helena and Sonia Goldenberg, as well as their mother, who uses a stage name. Poirot briefly speculates on this.
  • Asshole Victim: Cassetti's a terrible man, so there isn't much sympathy when he is killed. We find out that he's so deserving of his fate that Poirot eventually lets his murderers go.
  • The Backwards Я: The handkerchirf with a monogrammed "H" is thought to belong to one of four women at first, but actually belongs to Princess Dragomiroff, as her name is Natalia (spelled Наталья in Russian).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Zigzagged. It depends, to a large degree, on your definitions of "bad guy" and "win". Cassetti was the bad guy who won in the backstory, when he got Daisy's ransom and killed her anyway. In the main story, the murderers get away with everything... but given that their victim was the aforementioned Cassetti and they were the ones whose lives he ruined, one might be disinclined to consider them "bad guys". And if you do, they still failed to conceal their crime from Poirot — meaning you still have to decide whether his decision to look the other way constitutes a "win" for them.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The Armstrong family and household are all very decent, good people who go to great lengths to bring Cassetti to justice.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The murderers get off scot-free because even Poirot agrees that Cassetti's crime against the Armstrong family (whom the killers all had connections to) had been paid back justly, with interest.
  • Brutal Honesty: Poirot gets bad vibes from Cassetti immediately — something about the nasty look on his face and his eyes. He opts not to take Cassetti's case, and when Cassetti demands an explanation, he answers bluntly, "I do not like your face."
  • Busman's Holiday: What's Poirot doing on his vacation? Investigating a murder.
  • The Butler Did It:
    • He was one of the people who did it, that is. Also spoken word-for-word, but as part of a Running Gag by the line owner always implicating the most recent interviewee.
    • Averted in the case of the maid who was suspected in Daisy's kidnapping, but proven innocent.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The worldwide famous actress Linda Arden is mentioned several times as the late Mrs. Armstrong's mother. Princess Dragomiroff mentions she's severely ill and has retired. Except that's a lie, Linda Arden was there all along posing as Mrs. Hubbard.
  • Clock Discrepancy: The broken watch also appears — and Poirot points out that the killer wants him to think that the murder happened at that time. At one point he also proposes the possibility that it's showing the right time, but the owner hadn't accounted for the fact that the train had crossed a time zone earlier.
  • Closed Circle: Not only are they on a train, but trapped in a snowdrift. The Plan was relying on the circle being open, so that the murder could be pinned on some hypothetical outside party who had escaped unseen.
  • Continuity Nod: At one point, the Greek Dr. Constantine thinks, "When I get home I must get hold of Demetrius Zagone—he has been to America", then names a woman named Zia as Dr. Constantine's mistress. Demetrius and Zia Papopolous are a Greek father-daughter pair who work as fences for stolen jewelry in The Mystery of the Blue Train and base their business out of Paris, where the Orient Express is headed. Considering M. Papopolous and Zia's line of work, it is entirely possible either Zagone or Papopolous or both are false names, and Dr. Constantine is referring to his Greek countrymen from The Mystery of the Blue Train.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Ultimately subverted. Poirot realizes something is up when, one by one, every single person on the train reveals that they have some kind of connection to the Daisy Armstrong case. He realizes that this trope has been invoked — there's no way a supposedly random assortment of strangers could all be tied to the same incident. Sure enough, it's not a coincidence: the twelve assembled to ensure that justice was done for Cassetti.
  • Death by Childbirth: Learning of Daisy's death triggered the premature birth of her younger sibling. The baby was stillborn and their mother died as well.
  • Depending on the Writer: Various adaptations of the story put different interpretations of the criminals at the denouement.
    • The Sidney Lumet adaptation shows the Armstrong friends/relatives as sullen and quiet as Poirot reveals all of them are the killers. Poirot himself is at a loss at what to tell the police, and asks the train manager what to do. He proposes the "mafia assassination" plot, implicitly letting the killers off the hook. While Poirot is shaken by their decision, the killers all toast triumphantly.
    • The David Suchet serial adaptation shows the Armstrong friends/relatives as unrepentant and self-righteous over killing Casetti, and some of them are momentarily willing to murder Poirot and get away since he's the only one who can prove their guilt. While Poirot lets them go, it leads to him suffering a crisis of faith over humanity's goodness for the first time in the show.
    • The 2017 film adaptation showcases the Armstrong friends/relatives as tragic villains, who were so broken by what happened to the Armstrong family that they had to revenge themselves on Casetti. Mrs Hubbard attempts to kill herself over the incident and its murder as to end her suffering and to atone to Poirot, which proves to him that they can be let off without fear.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Colonel Arbuthnot smokes a pipe. This makes him a suspect, as a pipe cleaner was found at the crime scene.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The chief brains of the operation were Mrs. Hubbard aka. Linda Arden and the conductor Pierre Michel.
  • Downer Beginning: DAISY FOUND SLAIN.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Daisy Armstrong's father killed himself after Daisy was found dead and his wife died with their child from premature labor.
    • An innocent maid who was suspected early on in the case threw herself out a window.
  • Eagleland: The portrayal of the U.S. makes it obvious that Christie didn't know very much about it.
    • Poirot says that it is "obvious" that the Hungarian ambassador stationed in Washington D.C. must have been acquainted with the Armstrongs, a prominent family from Chicago.
    • Caroline Hubbard embodies this whenever the opportunity presents itself. Then again, it's all an act.
    • The Americans are also referred to as subjects rather than citizens. Of course, it is Poirot and Bouc doing this, so it's reasonable to assume they might not be aware of the distinction or consider it to be important. The French translation corrects this.
  • Enclosed Space: Being snowed in was the only reason the crime wasn't a total success.
  • Everybody Did It: Everyone on the train except the detectives is part of an elaborate conspiracy to execute the victim. The original idea was to provide themselves with an interlocking net of alibis, such that guilt could never settle on any one of them and it would be assumed that someone from outside the train did it. If it hadn't been for a Closed Circle snowdrift cutting off the hypothetical murderer's escape, it might have worked. Moreover, the presence of all the suspects is a clue in itself: the murder takes place during a "dead season" for the railway, and yet every berth in the sleeping car is occupied. Similarly, each of the twelve conspirators stabbed Cassetti once in rapid succession, specifically so that there would be no way to determine which of them had struck the blow that actually killed Cassetti and they would all equally bear the responsibility.
  • Everybody Smokes: Mentioned a lot, as a pipe-cleaner and used matches are among the clues found in the victim's cabin, so Poirot asks about suspects' smoking habits.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Ordinarily, Poirot always turns the true murderer over to the police, regardless of how justified they claim to be. But in this situation, he's so disgusted by Cassetti and what he did to Daisy Armstrong that he allows the murderer to get away with it, instead devising a "solution" that satisfies the cops (who also know it's not true, but agree with Poirot's judgment).
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Deconstructed. Many murder mysteries set up the plot so that every character had a motive, but why would someone be in a situation where everyone in the vicinity has a motive to kill them? It makes sense if the whole situation is the result of a conspiracy plotted by all the people with a motive to bring the victim among them. The trope plays pretty much straight too. The only characters who are not suspects are Poirot himself, who was hearing some of the key events of the murder taking place and was asleep through others, and M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine, who were incapable of being in the place of the murder at the time of the murder. When Cassetti first speaks to Poirot, he claims that he has enemies. Poirot notes that a man in a position to have enemies is unlikely to have only one. The Reveal is that there was indeed not "only one" killer.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Unusually for Christie novels, this one and its well-known film adaptations cover less than two days. The book begins with Poirot seeking passage on the eponymous train. A passenger is murdered that night, and Poirot investigates the case over the next day, solving it sometime in the afternoon or late morning.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Poirot and the French Lieutenant talk about how cold it is, and later Monsieur Bouc recollects being snowbound in a train. Guess what happens next...
    • Mrs. Hubbard bursts in after discovering the knife used in the murder in her sponge bag and faints. A detail that at first seems like Mrs. Hubbard is a dramatic person but it's the clearest hint to her real identity as Linda Arden, who was established to be a tragic actress multiple times prior.
      • Additionally, the narration points out that Mrs. Hubbard revives from her faint rather quickly, hinting that she was faking the entire thing.
  • Funetik Aksent: Mrs. Hubbard, the Amurrican headed to Parrus.
  • Genre Savvy: Poirot notes in the novel, after dusting the crime scene for fingerprints, that he doesn't expect such a search to tell him anything — no criminal would be that sloppy, nowadays, what with the overabundance of mysteries where fingerprints are plot points.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The Armstrong family and household was very loving and loyal. Cassetti paid a heavy price for what he did to them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Though all the suspected passengers and the conductor played a part in the murder (such that no one knows who really struck the killing blow), Linda asks Poirot to just punish her and let the others go free, though it means she must suffer alone. He just lets everybody get off scot-free instead.
  • Just Train Wrong:
    • The book cover used for the page image seems to feature a London and North Eastern Railway B1, which, if you couldn't tell, belongs in the United Kingdom and not the normal treading ground of the real Orient Express. A later book cover went one further and featured a photograph of a Canadian steam locomotive.
    • The 2001 film version didn't even bother using Wagon-Lits carriages, instead using a train of British Pullman lounge cars. Ironically, one of them, named "Ibis", was used as a dining car on the Simplon-Orient-Express (the Orient Express Poirot travels on) between Paris and Venice for a couple of years in the 20s.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: The victim was killed by a conjuration of his previous victim's relatives and friends.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: One clue Dr. Constantine notices is that the victim was stabbed by both a right handed and left handed person. Cluing in the victim was stabbed once by 12 different people.
  • Let Off by the Detective: With the victim being an Asshole Victim of the highest order, Poirot rationalizes that his murder meant justice was done. Although he reveals the murder conspiracy, he also offers an "out" by coming up with a plausible enough explanation involving an unknown assassin that doesn't incriminate the guilty parties. Those in authority accept this explanation rather than go through the political, legal, and publicity nightmare of prosecuting twelve people (some of whom are wealthy and powerful) for the murder of said Asshole Victim.
  • MacGyvering: Poirot improvises a means of reading the scorched note with an open flame and the wire frames from a female passenger's hatbox.
  • Magnetic Hero: The Armstrongs were so liked and celebrated that around a dozen people from different backgrounds went to incredible lengths to get revenge on their behalf.
  • Mama Bear: The real mastermind of the affair was Linda Arden, a.k.a Mrs. Hubbard, who did it to avenge her daughter and granddaughter (as well as to prevent Cassetti's killing any more children).
  • Metaphorically True: How Princess Natalia Dragomiroff explains everything.
  • Money Is Not Power: Cassetti finds out the hard way that his ill-gotten wealth can't protect him from revenge. He tries to pay Poirot for help, but the detective senses the man is no good and refuses. In the 1974 movie, Poirot says he takes cases that interest him and the interest in this one is dwindling.
  • Motor Mouth: Mrs. Hubbard. Poirot is exasperated by her nonstop chatter, and has to beg her to keep her testimony brief.
  • Multinational Cast: A French train crew, plus a few English, some Americans (one Italian-born), a Swede, a German, a Russian princess, and a Hungarian diplomatic couple, plus a Greek doctor and a Belgian detective and Wagon-Lits Company director. And every nationality but the last two conspired in the killing.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hinted at by Poirot who is not exactly happy with his Sadistic Choice. In the David Suchet version, he pulls his rosary out of his pocket, indicating he feels guilt for his final decision in the story.
  • Nice Guy: M. Bouc/Signor Bianchi. He was generous enough to offer Poirot a free first class ticket.
  • Noodle Incident: The case Poirot was working on before leaving Syria at the start of the book. All that is said is that it involved the suicide of a colonel, the resignation of a general, and that Poirot's efforts "saved the honor of the French Army."
  • Occam's Razor: Poirot opts for the simpler explanation, that Casseti's death was a revenge killing by a rival gangster, knowing it's also the false one.
  • Off on a Technicality: How Cassetti managed to walk free after the killing of Daisy Armstrong in the novel. He still recognized that the public would have torn him apart the moment he left court, hence why he fled America and changed his name. Eventually, the friends and family of the victims track him down and kill him.
  • One Degree of Separation: 12 of the passengers and the train's conductor all are closely connected.
  • Orient Express: Obviously.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Not only are there a dozen suspects with a connection to the victim, but there are also a misplaced match, a pipe cleaner, a handkerchief, a button from a railway worker's uniform, a watch broken at entirely the wrong time, and sightings of a woman in a red kimono. Poirot, to his credit, dismisses most of these fairly quickly as Red Herrings.
    Poirot: There are too many clues in this room.
  • Papa Wolf: One of the murderers was the conductor Pierre Michel, the father of the Armstrong family maid who committed suicide by jumping out of the window after being accused of the crime.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The victim had been guilty of the kidnapping and murder of a small child years before. Poirot finds the man is so deserving of his murder that he decides not to turn the murderer over to the police, and even offers them a theory of how the murderer escaped the train that is as plausible as it is false.
  • Please Select New City Name: The train departs Istanbul, but MacQueen calls it Constantinople.
  • Poirot Speak: As usual, Poirot increases his Funny Foreigner act to get the witnesses to talk to him. Colonel Arbuthnot barely hides his contempt for him.
  • Pretty in Mink: The 2001 film adaptation had a fur stole at the end. But Poirot had enough to do without worrying about fur thieves.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Monsieur Bouc/Signor Bianchi.
  • Red Herring:
    • Literally referred to by Poirot during The Reveal: He points out that the Mafia member and the red kimono were just "red herrings to confuse and deceive him", and even describes the night of the murder as the "night of the red herrings".
    • The handkerchief with the initial "H" on it leads down the wrong way, at first anyway.
  • Retcon: The late Colonel Armstrong's first name is alternately given as Toby, Robert, and John depending on the adaptation.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Poirot never does figure out who wore the scarlet kimono. He deduces its owner is the Countess, but he also concludes she never left her compartment, so somebody must've borrowed it in order to lay that false trail.
    • Most adaptations have Mary Debenham be the one to don the kimono, while in the video game, the kimono is owned by Countess Andreyni.
    • Who delivered the stab wound that actually killed the victim? The crime was planned in such a way that no-one will ever know. Not even the killer.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The kidnapping and murder of heiress Daisy Armstrong is very much based on the real Lindbergh kidnapping case.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Invoked In-Universe by the murderers. They very deliberately seek out twelve people who were connected to the Daisy Armstrong case, as a jury in a trial would also consist of twelve people. They explain that since they planned to bring Cassetti to judgment, they wanted to invoke the spirit of an actual court of justice as closely as possible.
  • Running Gag: "He/she did it!" after Poirot has interviewed one of the suspects.
  • Sand In My Eyes: The reaction that the snow was dazzling a suspect's eyes actually turns out to be a clue. Mr. Hardman was hardly holding back tears when Susanne was mentioned.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Poirot refuses thousands of dollars to help Cassetti, sensing he is a a very shady character. It proves to have been in his best interest to have done so.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Poirot figures out that all of the suspects are in fact complicit in Cassetti's murder. However, rather than turn them in, he sympathizes with their motivations and decides to cover up their involvement, claiming an unknown third party snuck onto the train and murdered Cassetti.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Everyone on the train was a part of the murder. They had to make up several lies to throw Poirot off their trail. This was something like a dozen people. Who kept up a lie under the scrutiny of Poirot. On a snowbound train in the middle of nowhere. Though not so much spontaneous, as they intentionally planned their stories so that pretty much everyone had an alibi with someone who would have no reason to lie about it (who would suspect Arbuthnot and MacQueen to be in it together, or Mrs. Hubbard and Greta, or — especially — Foscarelli and Masterman, who pretend to actively dislike each other to suggest that neither would cover for the other one). And the stories do have flaws, just not immediately obvious ones.
  • Sherlock Scan: An odd example — Poirot is somehow able to intuit that a suspect previously worked as a cook thanks to his "nose for fine dining" and saying something that would only make sense if she'd been a cook before.
  • Snowed-In: The train is stuck on the tracks because the mountain passes are blocked with snow.
  • Spanner in the Works: Multiple.
    • Monsieur Bouc / Signor Bianchi threw the whole plot off balance with a simple act of generosity to one of the world's finest detectives.
    • Even more than that. Poirot never meant to be on that train to begin with, having intended to spend a few days sightseeing around Istanbul first, but receives a telegram urging him to come back to London immediately.
    • The snowdrift essentially locks all the suspects on the train, while also giving time for Poirot to investigate and come to the correct conclusion.
  • Spill Stain Sabotage: Count Andrenyi purposefully spills grease on his wife's passport to obscure her Christian name (Helena instead of Elena) to avoid suspicion that the monogrammed hankerchief is hers.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Basically everyone who's not Poirot, Bouc, Constantine or Rachett is one of these. They've all witnessed the tragedy wrought by Rachett/Cassetti's kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong, and they're seeking to bring him to justice after he got Off on a Technicality.
  • Thriller on the Express: Trope Namer, along with the numerous examples that use the title format for a reference.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: The story's dramatic crux. Was it right for the twelve to kill a clearly guilty murderer — whose crime also caused the deaths of three other people and ruined the lives of all his killers — given that he'd already bribed society's court system to ignore his crimes? Eventually, Poirot chooses Good.
  • Token Good Teammate: There are 13 people involved in the murder plot, but only 12 of them actually stabbed the victim. Countess Andrenyi is not exactly innocent (she was still an accomplice and lied to protect the others), but she's no killer. The trope is Lampshaded by Poirot, who muses that, by the end of the investigation, he had to single out the innocent among culprits, rather than vice-versa.
  • Tranquil Fury: Princess Dragomiroff explains to Poirot that she would have liked Ratchett to be whipped to the death by her servants (a real punishment in Tsarist Russia). Poirot states that the Princess' strength lies in her will, not her hands. And indeed the Princess' stabs were the most feeble, but nevertheless the will of killing Cassetti was granitic.
  • True Companions: All of the murderers are united under the shared trauma of Daisy's murder at the hands of Cassetti and the subsequent fallout, and take great measures to ensure that none of them receive any undue suspicion over the others. For example, they all stab Cassetti a single time to demonstrate that they are all equally complicit in his death and no-one would know who actually dealt the fatal blow. When Poirot finally figures out the case, Mrs. Hubbard is the first to volunteer to take all of the blame in return for the others going free.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Cyrus Hardman explains to Poirot that he is a private detective and therefore has a fake passport (not to mention his act as an overbearingly friendly typewriter ribbon salesman). However, he conveniently avoids to say that he was connected the Armstrong case via being in love with Susanna, the maid who killed herself after being labelled an accomplice in Daisy's kidnapping.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Not completely unwitting, since Cassetti obviously meant to do great harm by his kidnapping of Daisy, but killing her (and pretending she was still alive to get the ransom money) led to a whole slew of From Bad to Worse occurrences in and around the family — the revelation that Daisy was already dead caused her mother to have a miscarriage and die, her father then killed himself, and the innocent family maid also killed herself when accused of the crime. Generally, the entire family and everyone connected to them had their lives ruined by this one act, and it is this as much as what happened to Daisy herself that motivated the murderers in their quest for justice.
  • Wham Line: Two occur in rapid succession. The first is when Poirot declares the solution: "They were all in on it." The second comes when Mrs. Hubbard drops her strong American accent and uses her true voice to dreamily remark, "I always fancied myself in character parts...", confirming Poirot's theory about the case.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: The murder victim was a horrible person, and investigating the crime just leads to how he'd done something to gain the enmity of almost everyone on the train. Which is why they all conspired together to murder him.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: A train full of them, no less. They've all suffered for years because of Cassetti/Ratchett, which only went From Bad to Worse when he got Off on a Technicality. After that, you really can't blame any of them.
  • You Never Asked: The solution to the mysterious handkerchief with a Н on it. It involves the Cyrillic alphabet and Princess Dragomiroff's first name.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Cassetti kills three-year-old Daisy just after the ransom had been paid and flees the country. He lives to regret his actions, but not for long.

Alternative Title(s): Murder On The Orient Express