Agatha Christie Books: Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Agatha Christie books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages. Once you read Murder on the Orient Express (1934), you’ll understand why.
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Podcast Transcript: Agatha Christie Books - Murder on the Orient Express
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:55
Carolyn, we have such a cool guest. Today we do.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00
We’re gonna be talking about Murder on the Orient Express, the most recent of the Agatha Christie books we’ve read. See, we’ve just started the podcast, and I’m already a little flummoxed.
Sarah Harrison 1:12
It’s that exciting, folks, yes.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15
We have Emily Schwartz, who is our guest today, which I’m super excited about. I know you are as well. Sarah, you’ve been a friend of hers for, from what I understand, 50 to 60 years.
Sarah Harrison 1:25
Yes. Here’s hoping for 120, 130.
Carolyn Daughters 1:29
It seems feasible since it’s already been so so long a time. So, before we get too deep into that, I want to introduce our sponsor, because our sponsors awesome. Our sponsor is Grace Sigma.
Sarah Harrison 1:44
Oh, I thought it was Carolyn Daughters. They’re both great.
Carolyn Daughters 1:48
So I am Carolyn Daughters, and my introducing Carolyn Daughters would just be, I don’t know, a little odd. So I’m going to instead introduce one of our other sponsors. We have more than two, we have three.
Sarah Harrison 2:02
And you can be a sponsor to folks. That’s a good point.
Carolyn Daughters 2:05
We are in the market for sponsors. You get these amazing shout outs. We will shower you with love and a lot of stickers. And anything else that that we have to give away, we would give away to you to, our sponsor. So be our sponsor. But today’s sponsor is not Carolyn Daughters, because that is me. Our sponsor today is Grace Sigma. Who is Sarah Harrison.
Sarah Harrison 2:31
Excellent company, very well run.
Carolyn Daughters 2:34
Yes, it’s a gem of a company. It’s a boutique process engineering consultancy, that Sarah started herself. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries as finance, telecom, and government. They use lean methods to assist in data dashboarding, storytelling, training process visualization, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more at gracesigma.com. We also have a listener award today. Our listener is Margo Craig from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Sarah Harrison 3:19
Good job, Margo.
Carolyn Daughters 3:21
She might be our first Tennessee. I’d have to double-check that. We’ve covered about 20 states and about three countries. We’re expanding. But thank you, Margo, for being amazing and for being a member of the Tea Tonic & Toxin book club. We appreciate you, and to show our appreciation we’re going to send you a very cool Tea Tonic & Toxin sticker.
Sarah Harrison 3:44
It is beautiful, stunning.
Emily Schwartz 3:49
It’s mysterious. Mine might be the mail. Speaking of mysteries, Deerfield, Illinois, is one of the most mysterious places I’ve ever lived. It usually takes six to seven months to receive any mail — unless it’s a bill. They find me. Anything interesting is usually is usually waylaid in some sort of twilight.
Sarah Harrison 4:36
They probably opened it themselves.
Carolyn Daughters 4:40
That’s what happened. Someone else took your sticker.
Emily Schwartz 4:43
They might have. And I’m gonna find them. Oh, look at that! No, definitely, I have not received it unless Dan found it and is hiding it from me in the house.
Carolyn Daughters 4:53
He put it on his YETI bottle and you just haven’t seen it yet.
Emily Schwartz 5:00
Well, now I have something to look forward to, frankly.
Carolyn Daughters 5:06
All right, so we’re gonna send Emily one and send Margo one. If you’d like your own on-air shout out and one of these awesome stickers, all you have to do is weigh in on the Agatha Christie books and other books from the 1930s that we’re reading. You can comment on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Or you can post to our Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin or Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. And be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode. We’d also appreciate your reviews on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to Tea Tonic & Toxin. We’re pretty much everywhere
Sarah Harrison 5:44
Everywhere. We’re entirely everywhere. Your reviews mean everything to us.
Carolyn Daughters 5:49
And they help mystery lovers find us and follow us.
Sarah Harrison 5:53
Indeed. Alright, I get the super exciting job this afternoon of reading Emily’s bio. She sent me a really short bio. This is a long one. From 2003 to 2014, Emily was the artistic director and playwright for The Strange Tree Group, an immersive and mostly macabre theatre company. Chicago Public Radio called the Strange Tree Group one of Chicago’s most imaginative companies in both the visual and the literary senses. For the Trees, Emily penned The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, which won the New York Fringe Excellence Award and the Jeff Award in Chicago, an honor given to outstanding …
Carolyn Daughters 6:54
The bio has been edited. The bio has been edited.
Sarah Harrison 7:00
Edited in triplicate, honestly. The forensic scientist who discovered that the remains of Cora Crepin might not actually be Cora Crippen — he came to the opening night performance.
Emily Schwartz 7:27
It was a surprise, by the way. I didn’t know he was showing up. No, he was in town for a conference. And he saw that this play was premiering that night. Dr. David Fran. His work and his study is on the Crippen case. And so he showed up and introduced himself to me. And I jhad ust spent a year and a half doing research on this case, maybe two years at that point. And I was immersed in all of it and had my own theories. His theory was opposite to mine, obviously, the scientific data. So that night I said, “Hey, you’re here. Will you do a post show? Talk with me? And we can go back and forth on what we think about Dr Crippen?” And so we got to do that. It was really unexpected.
Sarah Harrison 8:17
Did he just get there early and seek you out?
Emily Schwartz 8:21
Yep, that’s what he did.
Sarah Harrison 8:22
That’s awesome. I’m so glad he did that. That’s awesome. Yeah, Emily got to debate him on what actually happened with the murder. Other critically acclaimed productions include The Dastardly Ficus and Other Comedic Tales of Woe and Misery, Mr. Spacky, the Man Who Was Continuously Followed by Wolves, and The Mysterious Elephant. You can still find productions of her work across the country. The local Denver theatre group that Catamounts — we are in Denver, folks, and that is our local theater group — has performed both Dr Crippen and Mr. Spacky. Today, Emily is mostly a professional event planner and mom to four year old Henry, to whom she is passing on her love of the strange and unusual. She recently wrote an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for the Latin School of Chicago and is working on a children’s book. Emily has known Sarah for approximately 50 or 60 years, and we are thrilled to have her as today’s guest to discuss Agatha Christie books — specifically Murder on the Orient Express. Welcome, Emily!
Emily Schwartz 9:38
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah Harrison 9:40
Thank you for working with us on that bio. There’s a lot going on. But before before we get into everything that’s going on with Emily. I want to read a short summary of Murder on the Orient Express for anyone that maybe has not read the book. Of course, of all the Agatha Christie books, the plot of this one is probably familiar to most everyone.
Carolyn Daughters 10:10
For the three people on the planet who don’t know what Murder on the Orient Express is or what happened.
Sarah Harrison 10:16
Yes, of all Agatha Christie books, this one is one of the most famous. The story, published in 1934, follows renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who embarks on a journey from Istanbul to Calais aboard the luxurious Orient Express. Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the train in its tracks. By morning, it’s discovered that an American tycoon named Ratchett has been murdered in his compartment. He has been stabbed a dozen times even though his door was locked from the inside. With communications cut off from the outside world, Poirot agrees to investigate. Poirot quickly discoveres Ratchett’s true identity. Next, Poirot conducts interviews with a train filled with suspects, many of whom seem to have had connections to the victim. Poirot’s brilliant deductive skills lead to a surprising and morally ambiguous resolution, leaving readers to question the nature of right and wrong. Agatha Christie wrote 66 mystery novels, 33 starring Hercule Poirot. Her books are outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Today we’re excited to talk about Murder on the Orient Express. It’s our 11th book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Murder on the Orient Express, other Agatha Christie books, and all our 2023 books selections at teatonicandtoxin.com. And on Facebook and Instagram, @teatonicandtoxin.
Carolyn Daughters 11:48
Emily, I think you’re a mystery lover. I mean, you’re obviously writing mystery.
Emily Schwartz 11:53
You know, I am a mystery lover.
Carolyn Daughters 11:57
Tell us why you love mysteries and what draws you to them. And tell us about your experience with Agatha Christie books.
Emily Schwartz 12:10
My mom is a librarian. She started working in the library when I was about 10. One of my mom’s favorite stories was that she had read every single book in the children’s section of the library in Terre Haute when she was a kid. Then she moved on to adult books at a very young age. And the first section that she really latched onto was the mystery section. She was an avid mystery reader/lover. When I was a child, we would watch PBS mystery all the time. So that was my first introduction to the genre with the lady, the Edward Gory drawings where she’s on the tombstone and wasting away. That became a core part of my personality. And growing up in Indiana really helped me love mystery, which is funny to say, because you think of Indiana, it’s a sunny day. There are cornfields everywhere. What happens in Indiana? But I think Indiana is a very strange and mysterious place. I don’t know, Sarah, if you would agree with me about that.
Sarah Harrison 13:15
I don’t know. I mean, it’s the site of some funny mysteries.
Emily Schwartz 13:21
It is. Personally, whenever I go back to Indiana, I think of a full moon over a long, empty road, and there’s a bunch of cornfields.
Sarah Harrison 13:34
I do love that. I love the country.
Emily Schwartz 13:37
There’s a lot of ambiance there. I don’t live in Indiana now. My parents still do. I’m in Illinois, outside of Chicago, but I do miss it. When I go back, I feel that sort of excitement. That’s why I started writing because Indiana is a great, weird place. There’s a lot of strange things that happen there. I’ve read Agatha Christie books periodically, and in my life I actually had read Murder on the Orient Express when I was much younger, I think maybe I was 14 or 15 when I read it for the first time. So it was fun to reintroduce myself to this one, and I really have loved Agatha Christie’s books, especially And Then There Were None. That one was one of my very favorites. I reread that one again recently, too. I need to dive in. Murder on the Orient Express is my only Poirot of all the Agatha Christie books I’ve read, which is funny.
Sarah Harrison 14:34
I’ve never read any of hers that weren’t Hercule Poirot.
Emily Schwartz 14:37
Sarah Harrison 14:38
Yeah, is it next year that we get Miss Marple?
Carolyn Daughters 14:41
No, but next year we get And Then There Were None, which has no Poirot.
Emily Schwartz 14:49
I love And Then There Were None. Really good.
Carolyn Daughters 14:57
I don’t want to spoil that book. We’re going to cover it next next year. But it has some similarities to Murder on the Orient Express. There’s a bit of a shocker. So I read Murder on the Orient Express a second time. I don’t remember when I read it last. It was some huge number of years ago. And for me, the solution of the mystery is obvious. And of course, I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh film from 2017. I’ve also seen the 1974 version, which is amazing. And because I’ve read it before, it’s in my own cultural history or knowledge base. So it was so obvious to me. How did you both feel?
Emily Schwartz 15:56
It’s so funny, because I had read it before. And I had a foggy remembrance. I read it maybe 25 years ago. And so I’m reading it again. And I listened to it as an audiobook that was read by Dan Stevens. If you’re going to listen to an audiobook, listen to one read by Dan Stevens. He was so great.
Carolyn Daughters 16:23
Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey.
Emily Schwartz 16:28
Yeah, Downton Abbey. That’s what he’s known for. But Dan Stevens is a really wild actor. His character work and things he was in, like that Will Ferrell movie about the singing competition, Eurovision. He’s hilarious in that movie. He’s bizarre. And his voice work is so wonderful with all these different characters. I don’t call things a treat a lot, because I am not a 70-year-old woman. But I will say that that was a treat. So I highly recommend it. So I have to say I remember I knew where Murder on the Orient Express was going. But I went along for the ride. And when it was revealed again to me, it was like, oh, yeah, I do remember this. But I was surprised at how surprised I was especially because it’s in our pop culture.
Carolyn Daughters 17:29
It is. Sarah, just say it because you know you want to spoil the ending. Just the ending of this one — not of any other Agatha Christie books.
Sarah Harrison 17:41
Spoilers, everyone. I have a hard time answering this question because I’m not sure. Like, what constitutes solving the mystery? What do I have to know to say that it was really obvious? Carolyn and I were talking about this a little bit before. And at the beginning Poirot makes this leap, which we probably need to talk about. How does burning the paper allow you to read the words on the paper anyway? I don’t understand. Did they write it in lemon juice?
Emily Schwartz 18:15
Sarah Harrison 18:17
So anyway, Poirot sees this paper, which says something about Daisy Armstrong, and immediately he goes, this is Ratchett, also known as Cassetti from the Daisy Armstrong case. And I was like, whoa, that’s a leap. That’s a really big leap. It’s not like you can google him and be like, yeah, that was Cassetti after all. And so Poirot makes this leap, which I think the reader would never ever, ever be able to do. Carolyn, you said that Agatha Christie books give readers that information. Is it like a gift? Is that what they give me?
Carolyn Daughters 18:48
It was a gift. That’s why Agatha Christie gives it to the reader because otherwise the reader could never have understand the foundation of the story. We don’t know about this made-up story about Daisy Armstrong. It’s based on the Lindbergh kidnapping, but it’s a made-up story for the book. So we would have never known it. Somebody has to reveal it for us as the baseline so when the words show up we have context.
Emily Schwartz 19:10
It’s little Daisy Armstrong.
Carolyn Daughters 19:14
AISY ARMS. We see this truncated version of her name. When Poirot sees it, he knows instantly that this is Daisy Armstrong and the guy named Ratchett must be Cassetti. Cassetti was the head of a gang that was responsible for kidnapping and eventually murdering this small child.
Sarah Harrison 19:39
How do you know he’s the mastermind anyway? How do you know he’s not one of the goons? Beyond that, did I have a sense that more than one person stabbed him? Yes, certainly. Poirot goes into details about all the kinds of stabs over and over and over again. Was it as obvious as saying that crazy Mrs. Hubbard was Daisy’s grandmother? No, I never would never have seen that coming. Yeah, he definitely had to tell me the details. So I feel like the only thing that that was pretty clear was that multiple people killed Ratchett. But even so, it was like, well, a few people, or all the people stabbed him, it was neither, like, all but one. And that one was replaced by her husband
Carolyn Daughters 20:36
We have a jury of 12, essentially, that stab this guy. And that’s why some look like a woman’s stab or a man’s stab or left-handed or right-handed. This one’s deep. And this one is barely scratching his skin. And that’s why we have all these different stab wounds. And in reading the second time, the whole time, I thinking this is obvious. How could anyone not get how everyone was involved?
Sarah Harrison 21:11
Which part was obvious — that that there’s multiple stabbers?
Carolyn Daughters 21:15
That every single person was in the murder. There’s this very small group of people in this car, relatively small, and every single person has a connection to the Armstrong family and to this man.
Emily Schwartz 21:35
When I was reading it again, I do agree that it’s obvious that it’s multiple people, but the full put together story is something where I couldn’t recall what the exact like story was or how the characters were associated back to the family.
Sarah Harrison 21:55
Match them all up. Like, who is the housekeeper and the second governess?
Emily Schwartz 22:00
Do you think it’s obvious Carolyn? Because of the pop culture, because the story had been living in you for so long? What if you had read it back in 1934 without any pre-styled versions of this story happening before?
Carolyn Daughters 22:17
I don’t know. That’s a good question. Of all the Agatha Christie books, this one is different. I think at the time, nobody had done what Agatha Christie does in Murder on the Orient Express before. I think I would have been wired to think, okay, 11 of these are red herrings. This one person is the real killer. It’s Princess Dragomiroff or some random person. It’s Cyril Hardman. So it’s a little bit like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which we discussed earlier this year.
Emily Schwartz 22:53
I have not read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. So I avoided your episodes on that book.
Carolyn Daughters 22:58
I won’t spoil it.
Sarah Harrison 23:03
It’s the best twist of all time.
Emily Schwartz 23:08
I’ve heard it’s the best twist.
Carolyn Daughters 23:13
Agatha Christie books include this kind of “twist” better than any others. She showed every mystery writer how to do it. She pulls a fast one on the reader. So the reader is shocked, and at the end you’re either in awe of her or you’re annoyed by her. And with Roger Ackroyd, there are two camps. There’s the Oh, come on now, you can’t do that. And the other camp, the oh my gosh, she’s amazing.
Sarah Harrison 23:42
I’m in camp two.
Carolyn Daughters 23:45
I’ve been reading Agatha Christie from a young age to the current day. I’ve been in awe of her my whole life.
Sarah Harrison 23:55
I think there were two things in terms of figuring out and that’s more than one person stabbed this guy. And unknown number. But also that there was a collusion afoot, because they kept going over and over again, like, the train’s always empty this time of year, yet this train is fully booked. And so I was like, okay, there’s some kind of collusion involving multiple people here. But as far as the beauty of how it lays itself out, I could not have guessed the ending.
Emily Schwartz 24:29
It’s the initial meeting of Mary Debenham and the captain.
Carolyn Daughters 24:38
Emily Schwartz 24:42
That meeting with Poirot in the background at the beginning is another gift, right? There’s clearly something else going on here. These two are talking intimately, not like strangers. What could it be? Right? That’s a huge tell that everyone is linked in some way. It opens the door of like, Hey, what do you really think about this? You’re gonna meet a cast of kooky characters. All are intertwined in some fashion.
Sarah Harrison 25:16
I thought it was cool was that Murder on the Orient Express was based on a real crime. Maybe that’s the case with several Agatha Christie books, I don’t know. And then you wrote Crippin based on a real crime. How did you research this murder case, and how did you put it together into this mystery?
Emily Schwartz 25:40
It was a super interesting case. Dr. Crippen was accused of murdering his wife and burying her in the cellar and then running away to America with his secretary, Ethel. It’s the first case of a criminal captured by the use of the Marconi telegraph system. It’s also the first case where, because of the Marconi, ther was instant, worldwide news of where this person was. It was a sea chase, basically. It was the first “Action News Now, Ford Bronco of its time” chase, chasing him across the sea to watch him get captured. There was a ton of information. As I was writing it, I collected old newspaper articles of the time. I hunted down antique books with information. I have like a whole stack of Dr. Crippen info. I dove in to the what and the why and all the forensic information that had just come out the year that I was writing.
Sarah Harrison 27:00
New information was coming out.
Emily Schwartz 27:03
They had found some skin, they had an old piece of skin that they were able to do from the pit basically in his cellar. So at the time, this piece of flesh had been passed around and stored in a really not very airtight of manners for the last century. So really they were still using this same piece of skin and flesh to determine that, hey, this maybe wasn’t a woman, maybe it was a man. I’d have to refresh myself on the science at this point because it has been a decade since I’ve written the show. But it was one of those leaps and bounds of scientific knowledge to me. Like maybe this proves it’s not her in the cellar. I believe that it was Cora down there, though it hass never been officially confirmed that it was her. So it was interesting making a choice and running with it when we wrote the show. We had a lot of workshops with the cast around it. I’d share the articles with the with the theatre company that I was working with. We’d all come together and talk through different scenarios of what we thought happened. As a group, we all landed on this version of the story.
Sarah Harrison 28:36
It’s awesome. What made you land on Crippen as what you wanted to write about?
Emily Schwartz 28:55
I always loved those strange fact books. As a child, I liked weird and interesting stories. As a kid I was reading Lizzie Borden information, the Villisca axe murders, and, of course, Agatha Christie books. Crippen just fell into my weird news plate and we wrote it for a Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new company rep. What you would have to do every year is pitch something fairly fantastic. At the time, we as a theatre company did these shows that were pretty much based on stories that I would create. We hadn’t done anything based on a real or true story in the past. I would make up things like Mr. Spacky, the man who was continuously followed by wolves. It was still a murder mystery, and we do it with music in a band. Everything that we were known for was this very dark, funny, macabre musical-style of theater, and Crippen fit right into that pocket — and it was a true story. With the three faces of Dr. Crippe, we had three different actors playing Dr. Crippen. You’d have his public personality, his private personality, and his fantasy personality, the vision of himself. We’d have this series of three running throughout the production. There were three actors on stage. There were three different acts of the show. It was just an interesting way to tell the story, and it was really fun. The cast was great. It was a ball to do it. And I hope it gets picked up again soon. There’s possibility that it’ll be done in 2024. We had people at Edinburgh Fringe do it. The Catamounts in Denver did a wonderful job with it. Taking it to the New York fringe, and then the Chicago run. So it’s been done a few places.
Sarah Harrison 30:55
That’s so cool. That reminds me, have you read the book we discussed a couple months back, Malice Aforethought.
Emily Schwartz 31:02
Sarah Harrison 31:03
That reminds me of Crippen. Like his public persona, the likeable doctor, his private persona. Like, I can’t function, Julia taught me how to live my life. And then his fantasy, self, this epic, best at everything, getting knighted doctor that he fantasized about himself.
Emily Schwartz 31:26
That’s very similar.
Sarah Harrison 31:29
That’s funny. That’s bizarre. It was actually a real person, and his name was Crippen.
Carolyn Daughters 31:37
Well, that’s why the book felt so real.
Emily Schwartz 31:40
Maybe. Yeah, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen.
Sarah Harrison 31:47
That’s funny. Okay, Carolyn, you made a note of stereotypes in the book.
Carolyn Daughters 31:53
Murder on the Orient Express makes tons of references to America and what America means to various characters. Some of the other Agatha Christie books do as well. And then, there’s a swarthy Italian man. And the British characters Miss Devonham and Colonel Arbuthnot seem to feel disdain for Poirot and really discount him. All these different nationalities are represented, which is what helps tip Poirot off to the fact that this new murder is based on an earlier American crime.
Sarah Harrison 32:36
You can’t forget the Italian.
Carolyn Daughters 32:38
Yeah, the swarthy Italian.
Sarah Harrison 32:41
The train owner was sure it was the Italian. And because the killer used a knife.
Carolyn Daughters 32:45
Or it could have been a woman.
Sarah Harrison 32:47
Yes. But the stabbing was so frenetic.
Emily Schwartz 32:51
Plus poison. In the Agatha Christie books, is there some thought for that you guys have given in terms of how the time in which something is written is going to impact the phrasing and wording. Is there a thought of Agatha Christie’s casual racism in her books? Or is it more like her commentary on the different nationalities? I haven’t read further into her. So I’m curious if that’s a theme across all Agatha Christie books, or because this is so focused on the nationalities of the characters and the blending of the characters in America, if that’s specific to Murder on the Orient Express.
Carolyn Daughters 33:35
I don’t know enough about what Agatha Christie herself. None of the characters are really developed in a three-dimensional way. So it’s not as if we truly know Mrs. Hubbard, for example. We get glimpses into each of these characters, which makes it easy to keep track of all the characters. So that’s genius. It also made it very hard for me to really connect with any of the characters. I connected with Poirot and maybe not as much with anybody else in the book. That’s the case for me when I read most Agatha Christie books.
Sarah Harrison 34:18
Well, Poirot doesn’t solve crimes in that way. So you’re hearing all these stereotypes from different people with their different thoughts. But other than deducing that the ethnic mix is a little bit more American than you would find elsewhere, that’s not how he moves forward. A lot of the books we’ve read, we’ve been following through time, you you have seen these sorts of feelings about Americans emerge, especially those written from a British perspective, which is most of them. The American comes out as usually a crude and uncouth type of millionaire who’s boring. But this was a little bit of a struggle for me. When I’m reading about Americans, I reflect and think, does this ring true? Are Americans like this? Are Americans not like this? Does this have a sense of being American? Is it a stereotype, is a cultural tendency, is that a synonym for the same thing? I went to Italy a million years ago. I was 20 years old. I’m a very quiet person, and I would get off the bus quietly and do my things quietly. Not everyone on the tour was quiet. My American friends would get off the bus and be like, chill, hahaha, ciao! They were so loud that I would scurry away. And I would think to myself, this is why people say things about me.
Carolyn Daughters 36:09
It’s based in truth.
Sarah Harrison 36:10
I mean sometimes, yeah. But not me. The loud ones.
Carolyn Daughters 36:15
In Murder on the Orient Express, you could see how being able to channel stereotypes helps you create a big bunch of characters in a real short time, and then you can develop the story from it. It shorthands a lot of stuff that would take a whole lot more time to develop in another way. So we can we can look at this different group of characters and understand them, or pick them out. We can almost see them. Well, we can see them because, of course, there are multiple films of this book, as is the case with many Agatha Christie books. Which is one of the things that is super interesting to me is the 1974 version. And there’s a Kenneth Branagh 2017 version. What I’m about to say is going to be crazy. I’m so sorry, everybody. Everybody forgive me, but I think the 1874 film version is potentially better than this book.
Sarah Harrison 37:23
Really? No, I can’t believe you just said that. Get off the podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 37:29
Everyone, I’ve got to run. It’s been lovely. Sarah and Emily are going to see us out.
Emily Schwartz 37:37
What do you love about it? What sticks out to you?
Carolyn Daughters 37:41
It’s an all-star cast. I pulled up the cast here but Albert Finney as Poirot is amazing. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave. They’re all amazing in it. The 1974 film version takes the stereotypes that are on the page, which help you understand who they’re meant to be, but doesn’t make them come alive. And it actually makes them come alive. They’re so snapshotted in the book, that actually being able to be able to see Lauren Bacall strut across the stage as Mrs. Hubbard chomping her gum or whatever she’s doing with her crass American accent.
Sarah Harrison 38:29
And talking about her daughter constantly.
Carolyn Daughters 38:32
In the movie, I think it’s her dead husband. I think they changed it. In the book, Mrs. Hubbard is always saying, “My daughter, my daughter says, I ran it by my daughter …”
Emily Schwartz 38:45
Mrs. Hubbard is one of my favorite characters in Murder on the Orient Express. Because it’s such a twist or a trick to find out who she really is, the grandmother of the murdered girl. But if she’s saying m”y daughter, my daughter” in this comedic way the entire time, think of the character who really did lose her real daughter. That seems to me to be a very deeply hard choice. And I don’t know how to handle it in the 2017 version. If it’s not her daughter in 1974, that’s an interesting choice. And I wonder why they changed it.
Carolyn Daughters 39:26
Emily Schwartz 39:28
Because it’s such an emotionally deep and complex choice to make for that character that you wouldn’t see on the surface of reading this book because it’s supposed to be funny. It’s comedic effect through most of the book, but then you get to the point of like, oh, crap her daughter died and her granddaughter was murdered. And here she is talking about all the wonderful things that her daughter told her to do on this trip, and it’s really tragic. I haven’t seen the 2017 version. I don’t know if either of you have. I’m curious if they made that same choice.
Carolyn Daughters 39:58
I saw it several years ago and meant to rewatch it, but I haven’t rewatched it before this podcast. I found myself really frustrated by it. I also recently saw A Haunting in Venice. Oh, don’t tell me what happened. Well, I won’t tell you what happened. Go see it. But it’s very different than the book as we had heard in our recent interview with Karen Pierce. Several of the movies are very different from the Agatha Christie books on which they’re based.
Sarah Harrison 40:25
Yeah, she said it wasn’t that scary, but the preview looked too scary for me.
Carolyn Daughters 40:30
No, I didn’t feel it was.
Emily Schwartz 40:32
Tina Fey is in it.
Sarah Harrison 40:33
I know. I thought it would be really funny. Did you see the preview though?
Emily Schwartz 40:36
Sarah Harrison 40:38
Well, you’re a horror person. And I’ve come to the realization in my old age that I really am not.
Emily Schwartz 40:46
The scariest thing in that preview to me is Tina Fey trying to do dramatic acting.
Carolyn Daughters 40:51
It actually is scary in the movie as well in case you’re wondering if that carries through.
Emily Schwartz 40:56
Oh no! I love Tina Fey I don’t want to hear that.
Carolyn Daughters 40:59
I do, too. I love her.
Emily Schwartz 41:02
Tina, I love you. Sorry.
Carolyn Daughters 41:09
I know, Kenneth Branagh. Write me. Tea Tonic & Toxin, Carolyn Daughters. It just feels so overproduced. Everything feels so overdone.
Sarah Harrison 41:20
I want to ask you about that.
Emily Schwartz 41:22
I saw Death on the Nile. No, I was just gonna say I had a similar reaction. It looked beautiful in the trailer. And I thought, Oh, this is so delightful. Agatha Christie! How fun and warm. And it’s funny to say that a murder is cozy. But Agatha Christie books are very cozy. It’s a cozy type of murder to watch. And if you do it beautifully, how can you lose? Except when you lose. Because they’re just not done very well.
Sarah Harrison 41:47
I wanted to ask you about that though, too, because you had made the comment to me about the Kenneth Branagh production being too star studded, it’s too ornate. It’s too grandiose. It’s too Hollywood. But then I was reading this excerpt about this 1970s version. And that’s kind of what it was doing. Every single person was a star. It was really hitting all the nostalgia buttons for the time.
Carolyn Daughters 42:10
I think it followed the book. It really honored the book and honored Agatha Christie and Agatha Christie books. Agatha Christie herself saw the 1974 movie and thought Albert Finney was an ideal Poirot. He was amazing. And I think one of her only complaints about him was that his mustache was not quite as dramatic as it could have been. So you brought in this amazing cast, but you didn’t play with amazing material. Kenneth Branagh does. I see him, and I don’t see Poirot. First and foremost, that is a showstopper for me. But then it’s just the lights, the scenery, the costumes. Everything is almost too perfect. It’s just so Hollywood stylized, which is really his thing, I think, which he does extremely well. Maybe I’m more of a traditionalist or, as we already alluded to earlier, you said well, I’m not a seventy-year-old woman, you know, maybe I am a seventy-year-old woman.
Sarah Harrison 43:25
That’s what I was wondering. Is it because it’s too Hollywood? Was the old one any less Hollywood? I mean, being equally star-studded for its time. But to our time, they’re not well known actors so much. I know Sean Connery, I know Lauren Bacall, but I don’t see them all the time. Is it some distance, or is it really the handling of the material more so?
Emily Schwartz 43:56
Is it the CGI that Branagh uses? Do you need CGI to tell the story of Murder on the Orient Express — or to tell the story of any of the Agatha Christie books? You don’t. But nowadays, you can do a cool shot hovering above a train car room. I know, there are people who really liked the 2017 version. I was reading a bit before we got on the podcast today. I’ve seen the 1974 version. I did like it. But I have not yet seen the new one. So I can’t really speak to it. I just know that there’s a real camp that loves it too.
Carolyn Daughters 44:30
In thinking about this right now live on on our podcast, which is when I apparently do my best thinking, I think that 2017 version takes me out of the story. I’m aware and see the hand of the director. I see the hand of the writer. I see the production, and I’m amazed by all of it. But I don’t want to see that. I want to be immersed in the story. There’s this wall there for the 2017 version for me that prevents me from being immersed in the story. And this is a challenging story to get immersed in, because we all know the story. Every time I watch the 1974 version, I am immersed in it. I don’t feel that wall. I’m not aware of all the other hands, playing their roles, and putting this thing together. I can’t picture the dude with the camera who’s just off screen. I can picture all of it with Kenneth Branagh, I can picture the staff and the 100 people surrounding the set. I can picture the set. It takes me out of the story.
Emily Schwartz 45:41
That makes total sense. There’s so much going on in the story. Do you need that much icing on the cake? I don’t know. So, this podcast maybe officially recommends the 1974 version.
Sarah Harrison 45:54
I don’t know if I’ve even seen either. I can’t remember.
Emily Schwartz 46:00
At least one half of the podcast.
Sarah Harrison 46:03
Well, that half of the podcast thinks it’s better than the book. My former cohost Carolyn Daughters.
Carolyn Daughters 46:11
I know. I’m gonna be driven out of the podcast at this point. So this is my final podcast everyone, and it’s been fun. I didn’t make it a full two years. but that’s okay. Almost two years is good.
Emily Schwartz 46:23
I’d be so curious to see what you think of the audio book, Carolyn. Dan Stevens. That really helped me. Whatever it was, man. Listeners, go ahead and grab a tonic or a tea and sit by the fire and listen to that thing.
Carolyn Daughters 46:39
Now I want to.
Sarah Harrison 46:41
You make a good case. I want to, too. I rarely listen to fiction on audiobooks. Well Emily, we are at time and it has been delightful.
Emily Schwartz 46:50
How did that go so fast? I didn’t even get to talk about Poirot not waking up when 12 people entered a room just next to him for the entire night. Weren’t you already awake? And wasn’t the train stopped? How did he not hear a door open and close 12 times?
Carolyn Daughters 47:15
We should all sleep so soundly.
Sarah Harrison 47:16
There’s a couple of words I have about Poirot about this, honestly. Yeah, well, Emily, we hope you’ll stay for our second episode on our most recent of the Agatha Christie books, Murder on the Orient Express.
Carolyn Daughters 47:58
You can learn more about Murder on the Orient Express on our website teatonicandtoxin.com. You can share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. And subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode.
Sarah Harrison 48:36
And we can talk about those things. Until then, listeners, stay mysterious.
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →