Hercule Poirot, Kenneth Branagh, and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

When it comes to detective novels and murder mysteries, Agatha Christie is perhaps best known for her detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The first movie edition of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was received warmly by critics and audiences alike. The recent remake, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), received less warmth from critics and audiences.

Murder on the Orient Express 2 - Kenneth Branagh(Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot)

Kenneth Branagh directed and starred as Hercule Poirot in the 2017 rendition of Murder on the Orient Express. A star-studded cast joined Branagh, including Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff, Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados, and Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett. Many others joined in the story.

Murder on the Orient Express 3 - Michelle Pfeiffer(Michelle Pfiefer as Caroline Hubbard)

This version of the movie maintains the larger framework of the book written by Agatha Christie while looking to bring in a contemporary moralizing and sensibility from a book written in 1934. If written today, the more likely means of locomotion would be an ocean cruise at sea for 2-3 days or a transcontinental flight meant to be in the air for a good long time with delays built in.

Murder on the Orient Express 4 - Judi Dench(Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff)

The movie begins as an extravagant train ride through Europe that, on the surface is a vacation for Hercule Poirot and the guests alike. The keen detective that is Poirot has his antenna up from the beginning when, quickly into the tale, the suspense and thrills of murder, clues, and detection begin.

Murder on the Orient Express 5 - Willem Dafoe(WIllem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman)

Everyone seemingly has a motive for murder. The really baffling quality of the mystery here is that one lead after another after another leads to apparent dead end. The clear culprit defies the straightforward explanation that one would expect. Is the murderer Caroline Hubbard or Princess Dragomiroff? Might it have been Gerhard Hardman or Pilar Estravados? Many have plausible motives for murder, though not one of these suspects lends themselves to a satisfactory answer to the question who committed the murder?

Murder on the Orient Express 6 - Penelope Cruz(Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados)

My goal here is to give you a sense of the suspense. The discovery of the answer is one that I recommend you determine through reading the book or watching one of the movies.

Murder on the Orient Express 7 - Johnny Depp(Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett)

The critics consensus for this version of this movie, as shared on Rotten Tomatoes, is this:

“Stylish production and an all-star ensemble keep this Murder on the Orient Express from running off the rails, even if it never quite builds up to its classic predecessor’s illustrious head of steam.”

The critics consensus for the 1974 version, from Rotten Tomatoes, is more generous:

“Murder, intrigue, and a star-studded cast make this stylish production of Murder on the Orient Express one of the best Agatha Christie adaptations to see the silver screen.”

I personally enjoyed the 2017 version of the movie. That there were clues to unravel, multiple folks whose guilt was in question, and the underlying cleverness of an Agatha Christie murder mystery to outsmart were all there. For the very astute watcher, the solution to the crime is detectable. Regardless of the above stated critical reception, this basic quality was present in the movie.

The new Murder on the Orient Express is worth stream through Amazon Prime, HBO, or any other service of choice. Rent a copy from the library if you must. I’ve read the book. I am interested to see the 1974 version all the more for the glowing review above. My recommendation is to choose your path and immerse yourself in the mystery.

Matt – Monday, September 17, 2018

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The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Bronze Books)

When challenged to read books in 2017, I joined friends who had set individual targets  based on their interest level and the challenges life had in front of them. Three friends proposed to read 15 books. Three really ambitious readers proposed reading 50 books, 60 books, and 75 books in succession with varying degrees of reported success. In fact, I had one friend that reported reading a few hundred pages per day to the tune of 379 books read.

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, we both exceeded our goal by landing in the thirty-plus books range. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated the 35-books mostly as worthy reads.

Five (5) books landed with ratings of less than average, which is to say at 3.25-stars or less.  Eleven (11) books landed at average with a rating of 3.5-stars while one (1) landed at slightly above average with 3.75-stars. These seventeen (17) books will be collected into this remembrance of 2017. Simply follow the links for a fuller review of any particular book.

Ranking as above average at 3.75 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Having written in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie, I particularly liked the notion of there being two mysteries in a single book to unravel. One might remember that I spent an entire blog post in 2016 reviewing the Agatha Christie books read in 2016.

Magpie Murders 1

Ranking as average at 3.5 stars in 2017 included these eleven (11) books:

I stayed mostly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with these books, with Candide being the notable exception.

Candide 1

Ranking as just below average at 3.25 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Live By Night 1

Ranking as slightly below average at 3.0 stars in 2017 included these three (3) books:

My ranking of James Joyce came as the biggest disappointment here as I had hoped for something that would resonate more fully with me. Perhaps the larger issue here was my coming to the book in my forties rather than as a younger man.

ulysses

Ranking lowest at 2.50 stars in 2017 included this book:

That final book lands in the pulp fiction genre; the book itself was recommended by Stephen King, whose writing has some quirks to it though has been entertaining to me. The bottom line for this book for me is to realize that not all influences to authors that entertain me are books that I would want to read.

At the Mountains of Madness 1

The above listing of books reflects the bronze listing of books. A silver and gold listing will follow shortly.

Matt – Friday, December 29, 2017

Anthony Horowitz colors me intrigued with ‘Magpie Murders’

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a 2016 United Kingdom released mystery and thriller that made its way to a United States release in 2017. The immediate intrigue to this work was that the story reputedly played in the same realm as an Agatha Christie novel.  That the story takes a turn towards being the story of who killed who wrapped around an unfinished book dealing in similar subject matter colored me intrigued right from the start.

The central characters, only the second of which we get to meet really well, are fictional mystery writer Alan Conway as well as his editor, Susan Ryeland. In the embedded book, the champion detective is Atticus Pünd looks to solve a murder at Pye Hall within a sleepy English village circa the 1950s. You get a good sense for where the story is going when, at the moment of revelation, things take a turn that suggests that the manuscript has been changed. With the death of the author Conway, Ryeland is cast into the role of getting to the bottom of determining what happened while facing what turns into a real time thriller for herself.

Magpie Murders 2(Anthony Horowitz)

If you like puzzles as well as novels in the detective genre, you will be quite happy with Magpie Murders. As to why Horowitz chose to set his book in the 1950s rather than something more contemporary, the author had some clear thoughts on why.  Roslyn Sulcas in a review of Magpie Murders in The New York Times on June 8, 2017 leads to Sulcas quoting Horowitz.

“He placed the Conway novel in the 1950s, he said, because he likes murder mysteries that are “forensic free,” without surveillance cameras and DNA. “I want sprinklings of clues and red herrings,” he said. “And having no mobile phones is wonderfully helpful; it slows the pace down, and you have more time for atmosphere and character.””

I give Magpie Murder 3.75-stars out of 5.

Matt – Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Year in Reading 2016 Part 3 – Agatha Christie

Continuing with the example of the New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks on Twitter), this third installment of books read in 2016 focuses on works by Agatha Christie.

  • “Elephants Can Remember” by Agatha Christie on 9/2/16 – 3/5 stars.

The storytelling of Elephants Can Remember was very good and readily comprehensible. The formula was true of the Hercule Poirot convention, and I enjoyed that. The twins outcome was clear to me earlier than I had hoped, which led me to a lower rating of the book than I would have otherwise given.

3.0-stars out of 5.

  • “The Murder on the Links” by Agatha Christie on 9/13/16 – 3/5 stars.

A fun mystery, though I feel the book tries to hard to establish cache over the cleverness of Hercule Poirot in that basic detective work wasn’t performed by the police. That aside, Poirot and the plot were ahead of my suspicions of who did what.

  • “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie on 9/14/16 – 4/5 stars.

Perhaps the best Agatha Christie book I’ve read yet! This is the quintessential Hercule Poirot book that I’ve read; no, I did not correctly detect the solution ahead of time. There’s a reason for the statement “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades;” in sniffing out something close, I was not correct.

I recommend reading this book!

  • “Death in the Clouds” by Agatha Christie on 9/14/16 – 3/5 stars.

Another interesting and quick read that I finished same day. The overt nastiness referenced by other reviewers seems to have been cleansed from this edition.

The mystery entertained, and I missed the solution once again. Clues were present; traps were laid; it wasn’t until the big reveal that the motive (and the murderer) became apparent to me.

  • “Death on the Nile” by Agatha Christie on 9/18/16 – 4/5 stars.

Death on the Nile gets 4-stars for filling in more of the background before the murders than other Agatha Christie novels. I was 75% correct in getting the plot correct before the big reveal. As with Christie novels, the telling of the story relied on the two-handed dialogue approach. As suggested previously in this review, the real-time reveal of some clues felt like more of a sporting chance in determining the plot; the more adventure than mystery quality of this story led to the 4-stars rating.

  • “Nemesis” by Agatha Christie on 9/21/16 – 3/5 stars.

With Nemesis, I earned the fun of mystery-solving centered around Miss Jane Marple. The mystery was involved with plenty to consider. The weird premise centered around withholding much of the vital information until late, and precisely who was there to help or harm. I enjoyed the way the form of unfolding the story was switched up.

I figured out the perpetrator of the crimes correctly, though missed the motive. I missed uncovering the players that were the adversaries/helpers as well.

Overall, I give ‘Nemesis” a 3-star rating.

  • “The Man in the Brown Suit” by Agatha Christie on 10/12/16 – 3/5 stars.

With The Man in the Brown Suit, the mystery-solving is centered around the adventures of young “gypsy girl” Anne Beddingfield. The cast of characters take a cruise to South Africa with Miss Beddingfield playing amateur detective after failing to interest Scotland Yard in a pair of deaths early in the story (before setting sail). A jewel heist and intrigue offer the story telling more as a thriller feel than a mystery feel, which is a manner of storytelling unlike most other Agatha Christie novels that I’ve read.

The resolution around who the criminal mastermind was eluded me. The chess moves that brought about resolution to the crime was clever; that so many characters were clever in concealing the nature of their behaviors also proved beyond me this time.

To have been so off in my reasoning feels a bit confusing, honestly. That I currently feel no desire to go back and reread this book for missed clues perhaps has to do with my overall lack of affection for this book, which is reflected in my rating. I give The Man in the Brown Suit 3-stars.

  • “4:50 from Paddington” by Agatha Christie on 10/17/16 – 3/5 stars.

With 4:50 from Paddington, I found another Agatha Christie novel of pleasant, mannerly characters in the largely British way that I imagine is a real thing. Miss Jane Marple interacts with a pair of elderly ladies throughout, doing quite little in the way of detection throughout the story until the last dramatic revelation. In fairness, the story does tie out as a mixture of train mystery and, as with many Christie novels, a largely family affair.

The resolution around who the criminal mastermind, as with most Christie novels, was eluded me. I am less displeased with the lack of my solving this mystery as I was in missing The Man in the Brown Suit, though I alas must grant this book as another rating of 3-stars.

 

Matt – Wednesday, December 21, 2016