Book review: Classic murder mystery an exercise in deductive reasoning

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

In 2011, Agatha Christie was credited with being the most published author of all time by publisher Harper Collins. Wikipedia still gives her that credit. Most known of her works is “Murder on the Orient Express,” a classic murder mystery. As an admitted “who done it” fan, I was pleased when it was the selection for the Wilton Public Library Classic Book Club.

Like current mysteries, the 1934 version involves a crime, a series of clues and a surprise solution (if the author has confounded the reader while setting out the clues — often the author’s intent). The main character has to be able to logically put the clues together. Readers who do put the clues together have to be made to believe they are, like the hero, good detectives.

So how does the classic “Murder … ” differ from its modern offspring? More often than not, the modern mystery presents considerable action, at least one episode of considerable danger to the hero/heroine, and then the surprise logical solution. In “Murder … ,” the hero, Hercule Poirot, is made aware of the murder, but because the train is snowbound, must solve the case without even the outside resources available in 1934. It becomes a case of interviewing all of the passengers in the affected car and using deductive reasoning. Though it has little or no action or danger, still we have a classic worthy of several movies.

Without visible action, how does one make an interesting movie? In 1974, Paramount Pictures released its answer to that question, “Murder on the Orient Express.” The book is an exercise in deductive reasoning, having virtually none of the action and suspense portrayed in today’s movies. By visually presenting the travel and action implied in the book, a viable movie was possible. Add to that an international cast featuring many of the stars of the day, and you have what has become a classic movie (with six Academy Award nominations and one Academy Award winner, Ingrid Bergman, for best actress in a supporting role).

Apparently 20th Century Fox thought it was time for this generation to experience the Christie mystery. In 2017, it released the fourth film version of “Murder … ”

Thus far, the 1974 version has not been surpassed; read the book, see the 1974 version on DVD before seeing the current movie; you be the judge.

P.S., While there are several types of detective novels, a person from our book club divides them into two types: those that essentially describe the detective solving the case, and those that set the clues out with a climax near the end, when the detective summarizes them and presents his or her surprise conclusion. The reader has been allowed to see all of the clues and usually has drawn his or her own conclusion. The challenge is to see if the reasoning matches. Both types try to make the clues add up to a surprise for the reader. Agatha Christie writes the latter type.

 

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