Agatha Christie’s celebrated Belgian Private Detective known for his stupendous vanity, ‘order and method’ and li’l grey cells – Hercule Poirot – had quite a few popular adventures. Nearly all of them have been rendered beautifully as televised adaptations featuring David Suchet as ‘Poirot’.
The train based stories make an interesting watch – the crème la crème of society taking their yearly sojourns to Riviera using the Orient Express is a vivid story in itself. Amazing luxury and scenic views dominate these stories, adding an extra zing to them. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train’ are picture perfect. (Viewers may remember ‘The Plymouth Express’ as well – it is more or less a base story reproduced in a more elaborate format as The Mystery of the Blue Train’.
David Suchet is Poirot personified – twenty-five years of his rendition of 70 stories adapted from Agatha Christie’s books is a shining testimony of that. I can think of no other actor in the role now.
Of the two train stories I mentioned above,’The Murder on the Orient Express’ is the more popular one. It has been made into a successful film as well prior to being televised. We get to see the lovely visuals of the train that is such a wonderful journey across Europe, from Istanbul to Paris (1500 miles covered in about 80 hours of travel time).
It is a grim little narrative and there aren’t any light moments at all. As the train journeys into its second night, it runs into a murder and snowdrift somewhere in Yugoslavia. The murdered man – Ratchett – is a rich man on the run and seems to have a shady past.
Poirot is on his own while investigating the crime. He finds many elements intriguing and as usual there seem to be a plethora of suspects. He does an interesting trick using a Lady’s Toolkit to reconstruct a burnt fragment of the letter. Poirot soon unveils him to be Cassetti, a member of the mafia family in US, who had kidnapped and killed a three-year-old girl, Daisy Armstrong, and ruined the family in the aftermath of the shocking crime. He interrogates the 13 fellow passengers on the coach and gradually establishes their links to the Armstrong family.
The climax is unguessable by most and the moral dilemma faced by Poirot is shown well. He finally accepts the claims for justice and retribution for a horrible crime even though it has been administered by private parties and is not keeping with the tenets of criminal law. It does cost him a bit as we find him while trudging away on the snow flaked platform at Belgrade.
‘The Mystery of the Blue Train’ is full of stock characters – a ruthless wealthy man who has a weakness for his lovely daughter, a daughter who is troubled and promiscuous, and a husband who is addicted to gambling and rough in manners so that he falls out of favour of his wife & father-in-law. We see a world-famous ruby and sense the intended theft of it on the train. This bit is contrived as the theft could have been done in a far safer way and there really was no need to murder the victim.
That apart there is fun and frivolity in the story. A parallel strand of Ms.Katherine Grey, who has suddenly come into money and is unfamiliar with the social etiquettes of fine living. Poirot decides to take her under his wings and protect her from unknown perils. Ms Grey’s cousin and her family are a set of riotous characters who give us many light moments to enjoy. Life at Riviera is indeed meant to be a pleasure.
The climax serves its purpose as the murderer turns out to be one of less-likely suspects but overall the story does disappoint. Frankly it is such an elaborate charade on the train – the robbery could have easily happened elsewhere and of course there was really no need to complicate the plot with a murder to boot – smashing the face beyond recognition too is a needless addition.
All in all, these Poirot episodes are very entertaining – the scenes are engaging and we become voyeurs peeking into the lives of the rich and the beautiful. For that along with Death on the Nile, the stories settings are justified and add to our delight.