Spellbound by classic ‘who done it?’

Published 1:03 am Saturday, October 3, 2015

For days, I was aboard a snowbound deluxe European train, looking over the shoulders of M. Hercule Poirot, the great Belgian detective. I wondered what in the world the vain, egotistical little man was going to discover next as he investigated a murder committed in the compartment next to his own.

The novel, “Murder in the Calais Coach,” by Agatha Christie, held me spellbound. I could somewhat identify with Poirot’s surroundings, since I once traveled on a European train during snowy conditions. I could almost hear the mournful train whistle and the clacking wheels rolling on the tracks as I continued to read. It was uncomfortable, cramped in the tight compartments. I identified with the frustrated passengers who were anxious for the whistle to blow and the wheels to move again.

I had been stealing several half hour or so breaks from household chores to slip into my recliner to see how Poirot was progressing. At night, propped up on pillows in bed, I turned once again to the novel to see how Poirot’s methods were working. I read until my eyelids drooped and I had to close them. By then, he had interviewed the passengers and pieced together some evidence.

Although I had seen the movie version of this mystery, titled “Murder on the Orient Express,” I did not recognize it at first. I was well into the story when I realized that. I remembered only tidbits here and there, and was so absorbed in it by then that I kept reading. I grumbled to myself a few times because the English author used some foreign phrases I did not understand. Rather than reach for a dictionary, I just let them go. Some were lost to me. I figured out others by the way she used them.

Agatha Christie was a prolific writer whose works sold in the millions. She wrote full-length detective stories and short mystery stories. I was surprised to find she also wrote some romantic novels, using the pen name, Mary Westmacott.

Christie introduced Poirot in her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” in 1920. Six years later, her novel, “The Murder of Richard Ackroyd,” brought her fame. In 1930, she introduced another character, Jane Marple, in “Murder at the Vicarage.” Of the characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Poirot is my favorite.

I often browse my husband’s personal library and office shelves searching for good books. It was on one of those shelves that I found a collection of mysteries including Agatha Christie’s “Murder in the Calais Coach.” Among its pages was also a story by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of the famous Perry Mason.

I finally left the stranded train, aware of “who done it.” But I could not put the book down. It was time to find a new adventure among its pages. Compliments of Agatha Christie, there were more mysteries ahead to be solved. And who could handle them better than Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?

Nina Keenam is a retired reporter.