This is only my second time reading an Agatha Christie novel, but still, I was by no means eager to revisit her recurring sleuth. Hercule Poirot has always struck me as overly pompous, quite unlike Sherlock Holmes, who isn’t exactly modest but at least admits it. This made it rather difficult to get into the book, but luckily Poirot doesn’t have much to do other than observe what’s going on around him and then proclaim whodunnit. I suppose that’s a mark of bad writing, but in a detective novel there really isn’t much else to be done.
Anyhow, the story begins when Poirot takes a train trip that is held up by snow. While stranded, a murder occurs on the train, and all the other passengers are suspect. It’s your basic setup.
To be honest, I thought the structure of this book was a bit flat. Most of it consisted of Poirot interviewing the passengers, and no real action or stunning bits of detective work took place. No doubt this is simply the way mystery novels were written at the time, but I think Christie could have done more.
That being said, the book as a whole worked because the crime itself was fascinating. There were so many loose ends and semi-mysteries for Poirot to solve before he could get to the big reveal, and the process of this is what really holds the book together. Sometimes it’s okay for a novel to be this flat, to have chapter after chapter of procedural dialogue, if the subject at hand is especially gripping. That’s what Christie was trying to do here. It was fun to watch as the story unfolded, as the alibis of the night in question were all given and as Poirot attempted to reconcile them all.
Something that really amused me was the way Christie consciously made all of her characters into national stereotypes. The English were reserved and precise, the Italian was loud and rambling, et cetera. It was funny, though I’m not sure if Christie meant it to be that way.
I suppose the ending deserves a mention, as much as it can be mentioned without being spoiled. It was just about as big a twist as I’ve ever seen, and it cleared up some big coincidences I had been criticizing.
All in all, a decent book. Far from the best I’ve ever read, but not the worst, either. My final book for the Eclectic Reader Challenge is Odd Thomas, which I hope to review next week so that I can finally start writing my normal kind of post again.