Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie
Contributed by Ariane Heyne
Part 1 Chapter 4-5
Summary

Chapter 4

The Orient Express arrives at Belgrade at 8:45. Poirot alights from the train to stretch his legs. However, the bitter cold causes him to promptly get back on board. The conductor tells Poirot that his luggage is now in compartment number one, which is M. Bouc’s carriage. M. Bouc has left it for the Athens coach so that Poirot would be able to have a spot in first class. Compartment no. one is immediately next to Mr. Ratchett. It is situated two doors down from Mrs. Hubbard. Mrs. Hubbard informs Poirot that she is “dead scared” of Ratchett. She tells him that she overheard Ratchett trying to open the communicating door between her apartment and his the previous night. As Poirot stands in the corridor conversing with Mrs. Hubbard, Arbuthnot and McQueen walk by. Poirot hears McQueen say that Arbuthnot needs to come to his carriage so they can discuss India. After Poirot has bidden Mrs. Hubbard goodnight, he goes to his carriage. After reading for an hour or two, he falls asleep. He wakes up “some hours later” to a loud cry or groan that seems close-by. After that is the immediate sound of a ringing bell. The train has now stopped, and Poirot thinks they must be at a station. The Wagon Lit conductor knocks on the door of Mr. Ratchett’s apartment. A voice replies from inside: "Ce n'est rien. Je ne suis trompe". The conductor then walks down the hall and approaches another door that has a light on. Poirot looks at his watch, and sees that it indicates the time is twenty-three minutes to one in the morning.

Chapter 5

While the train is still stopped, Poirot experiences trouble sleeping. It is the strange quiet that causes this. As he lies in his bed awake, he hears a scuffle of slippers walking in the hallway. There is someone within the car continually ringing her conductor’s bell. The conductor firmly responds to this, and Poirot hears Mrs. Hubbard’s voice. She is saying that there is a man in her compartment. Poirot rings his own bell and requests water from the conductor. The conductor tells Poirot that the train is stuck in a snow bank. It seems that it may be stationary for several days. Once Poirot has had his water and he is ready to go to sleep, he hears a significant thud next door in Ratchett’s compartment. He peers outside his compartment, but he sees only a woman wearing a scarlet kimono making her way down the hallway. He also sees the conductor at the end of the hallway, making entries in a book. The train is still stationary at 9:45 AM. Poirot goes to the dining car. All the guests are gathered there. There is a great deal of anxiety among the passengers. They are concerned that they will not be able to make connections and see relatives. Once breakfast is done, M. Bouc summons Poirot to his cabin. M. Bouc informs Poirot that Ratchett is dead: he’s been stabbed to death. Dr. Constantine, the coroner, has found that the crime took place between midnight and two in the morning. As Ratchett was stabbed between ten and fifteen times, suicide is ruled out. Ratchett’s compartment window was left open. However, Mr. Bouc believes this was done deliberately to give the impression that the murderer left through the window. If  the murderer had left through the window, he would have left marks in the snow. The door was chained on the inside and locked. It seems that the murderer remains on the train in the Stamboul-Calais coach. M. Bouc requests that Poirot take the case. Poirot says that he will.

Analysis

In Chapters 4 and 5, we see a great deal of detail. There are many important events, insights, and conversations, and these assist Poirot in unravelling the Armstrong murder plot. Throughout Chapter 4, the reader’s attention is peaked. This is because it is known that a person is going to be killed, probably Ratchett. It’s likely to be Ratchett because he has already been identified as the clear antagonist, and also because of the writing’s style and format. Chapter 4 provides Poirot with his first list of clues. —We find that the sole evidence the reader is able to trust is through the perspective of Poirot.

The characters carry out a well-rehearsed performance for Poirot. Mrs. Hubbard essentially informs Poirot that Ratchett, later shown to be Cassetti, is a murderer. McQueen requests that Arbuthnot come to his room to discuss India. This “show” will not be revealed until the book’s ending. Through describing these events through Poirot’s perspective, the reader comes to the assumption that they are fact—Mrs. Hubbard retired to bed and spent time reading and McQueen talked about India in McQueen’s cabin. The surprise is made more intense as a result of the fact that what the reader thought was the truth is not the truth at all. Hercule Poirot was hoodwinked, showing that he’s not omniscient after all. 

The details that Christie spends a lot of time on, such as Poirot overhearing Ratchett washing his hands in the washbasin at night, make it even more interesting to read this book for a second time. If one reads the book when they already know the ending, they are able to spend more time tracing the movements of the murderer. Poirot heard someone washing his hands, but it was probably not Ratchett but the murderer. Details like these, which are from the perspective of the person next door, leads the reader to inquire, "who was that person next door and what were they washing?" 

Christie also intensifies the plot by using the setting of a train stuck in a snow bank somewhere between Stamboul and London. There is a murder, and not only that the murderer is likely still on the train, and the train cannot move. This setting is effective in making the investigation center around the Stamboul-Calais coach. This is later confirmed by the evidence presented by Hardman that no one entered or departed the coach that evening. The situation is made even more dangerous and urgent in this way. It is by no means certain that the murderer will not strike again, with another passenger.

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