Agatha Christie Poirot 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 Poirot books and other mysteries 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 Poirot 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 0:56
Carolyn, we are back.
Carolyn Daughters 0:57
We’re gonna talk more about Murder on the Orient Express, one of the best Agatha Christie Poirot books.
Sarah Harrison 1:01
And talk to Emily Schwartz, our super sweet guest.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05
Sarah Harrison 1:11
And we have a super sweet sponsor today. I love the sponsor. It’s my favorite sponsor. It’s Carolyn Daughters. She runs game-changing corporate brand therapy workshops, teaches Online Marketing Bootcamp courses, and leads Persuasive Writing Engine workshops. Carolyn empowers startups, small businesses, enterprise organizations, and government agencies to win hearts, minds, deals, and dollars. You can learn more at carolyndaughters.com. Thank you, Carolyn.
Carolyn Daughters 1:51
Happy to do it.
Sarah Harrison 1:53
Thank you, future sponsors, for sponsoring our show in the future.
Carolyn Daughters 1:56
If you want your own on-air shout outs plus all kinds of freebies and love and attention, just let us know. We’ll gladly incorporate you into our sponsor list.
Sarah Harrison 2:00
Yes, indeed. And today’s listener award goes to Helen Chandler from the United Kingdom. Thanks, Helen, for being such an amazing member of the Tea Tonic & Toxin book club. We appreciate you, and we’ll be sending you a sticker all the way to the United Kingdom to bring you joy and happiness. Thank you for listening. And if you would like a sticker — and why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t like stickers? — all you got to do is pretty much anything. Just share or like or comment. Send us an email, disagree with us, start an argument, whatever. You can find us on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. Subscribe, so you never miss an exciting episode. And please give us your five star reviews wherever you get your podcasts.
Carolyn Daughters 3:22
I love that you clarify what kinds of reviews we want.
Sarah Harrison 3:26
Don’t gives us any nonsense reviews.
Carolyn Daughters 3:27
We could be asking for reviews and then we could get a bunch of stuff and think, wow, we really should have kept our mouths shut.
Sarah Harrison 3:33
You won’t get a sticker for that.
Carolyn Daughters 3:36
But you will get a sticker for your five star review.
Sarah Harrison 3:40
If you want to argue, argue offline not, not in a review. That’s bad form.
Carolyn Daughters 3:49
And what platforms are we on?
Sarah Harrison 3:50
I already said that. Oh, wait, the podcast platforms! All of them, dude. Apple, Google, Spotify. If you go to Spotify, we’ve been doing more polls, and I’m trying to create some opportunity to give us your opinions. So go there, fill those out, and let us know what you think about whatever we’re asking about.
Carolyn Daughters 4:16
I’m not super techie, and podcasts are still new to me, though I’ve been doing this for almost two years, which is interesting. But my understanding is we’re everywhere.
Sarah Harrison 4:27
We’re on all of them.
Carolyn Daughters 4:29
That’s where I was going. I wasn’t going to have you repeat our Instagram and Facebook @teatonicandtoxin. I wasn’t going to repeat that as I just did.
Sarah Harrison 4:41
Find us. We’re everywhere.
Carolyn Daughters 4:45
Today, we have a guest Emily Schwartz. She was in our previous episode also on Murder on the Orient Express. Be sure to listen to both episodes. Let me tell you a little bit about Emily. From 2003 to 2014, Emily was the artistic director of and resident playwright for the Strange Tree Group and 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 literary senses. For the Trees, Emily penned The Three Faces of Dr Crippen, which won the York Fringe Excellence Award and the Jeff Award, an honor given to outstanding theatre artists in the Chicago area. Now there was this forensic scientist who discovered that the remains of Cora Crippen might not actually be Cora Crippen, and he came to the opening night performance at Steppenwolf in 2011. And there Emily debated him on what actually happened with the murder. Super interesting. 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 find productions of Emily’s work across the country. The local Denver theatre group, the Catamounts, for example., 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, I don’t know, approximately 50 or 60 years. We’re thrilled to have Emily as today’s guest to discuss Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Welcome, Emily.
Emily Schwartz 6:38
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to discuss Agatha Christie Poirot books!
Sarah Harrison 6:40
Carolyn Daughters 6:42
You have quite the resume.
Emily Schwartz 6:46
It’s been a fun few decades in Chicago. Yeah, definitely.
Carolyn Daughters 6:51
Very cool. And so we’re gonna get back into our conversation about Murder on the Orient Express and Emily and all things mysterious. And to start that off, I’m gonna read a short summary of Murder on the Orient Express for the three or four people on the planet who don’t know what happens in this book. Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, this one may be the most famous. one of the most famous detective novels ever written, Published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express is follows renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who embarks on journey from Istanbul to Calais aboard the luxurious Orient Express. Just after midnight, a snow drift stops the train in its tracks. By morning it’s discovered that an American tycoon named Ratchett has been murdered in his compartment. He’s 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 discovers 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 Agatha Christie Poirot books in total. Her books are outsold only by the Bible on Shakespeare. Today, we’re excited to talk about Murder on the Orient Express. It’s our 11th book selection of 2023, and you can find more information about Murder on the Orient Express and all our 2023 books selections at teatonicandtoxin.com and on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 8:36
Emily, we were talking in the last episode about the movies that were based on Murder on the Orient Express. And you have recently written an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. And I have recently finished reading the actual book to my son. My daughter was less interested. And that seems really hard. I wanted to ask you about adaptations.
Emily Schwartz 9:13
I don’t tend to do adaptations. It was a special request originally from the Latin School. They originally reached out to me and did the adaptation about 10 years ago. And then they reached out again to say, hey, can we can we work on it again and adjust some things. A few different schools have done the adaptation since then. But it’s very focused on the original texts because that’s what the school requested. It was really a partnership with Frank Schneider ,who’s the theater director at the Latin School. We worked together he gave me a clear view of what they wanted, which is a very Lewis Carroll version of Alice in Wonderland. So that language was very reminiscent of the book. But they also had in the original cast 30 students who were going to appear in it. So it was my job to think through how 30 different people can tell the story of Alice in Wonderland. In my style, I tend to do a lot of chorus work, it’s like a Greek chorus style of narrators for Alice in Wonderland. So every kid had more than one line, and they switched characters. You might be a narrator at the beginning, but then you’re playing the Queen of Hearts or you’re, you’re a narrator, but then you transition into the dormouse. Alice remains the same throughout, the White Rabbit remains the same throughout, but all the kids get a chance to be actual characters in the story. II’s a true use of the text to get everybody to get familiar with that language, to embody it, to have fun. The Latin School also brought in acrobatics as well. So there’s that body movement analysis. Alice is falling down the hole, and kids are carrying her through the alleys of the theater, and there’s a lot of tumbling and lifting. It was really interesting to think about it that way. Who doesn’t know Murder on the Orient Express or Alice in Wonderland, right? How do you take Alice in Wonderland, which everyone knows, and make it a little bit different. It was tricky in that respect to think, Oh, God, Alice in Wonderland, how do I do it differently than it’s already been done? So it was fun to do that. And the real joy of it comes from seeing how involved all of the kids are in their production. They’re really in it. That was fun to do the adaptation that way.
Sarah Harrison 12:18
Awesome. I was wondering how based it was in the literature versus what people are most familiar with, which is the Disney movie.
Carolyn Daughters 12:31
That’s the case with a lot of stories. We all know the Disney version of that story. Sarah, you’ve talked about Grimm’s fairy tales.
Sarah Harrison 12:39
I’m a children’s literature stickler with my kids. We don’t watch the movie until we’ve read the book. And so I read a lot of these books, and, wow, they are wildly different than what Disney came up with for the movie. And so how does that process work? How do you decide what to leave out, what to pull in, what distills the essence of something?
Emily Schwartz 13:05
It’s really hard because Disney’s super fun, right? So Disney is written to take aspects of the story and make it appealing to kids. You want to buy the merchandise, you want to see it again, it’s very colorful, it’s very funny. I think that in terms of the adaptation, that’s very non-Disney, is trying to put the humor into how the chorus is communicating the actual words of Lewis Carroll, so there’s commentary within it. I do add my own spin on it. It’s not just me like taking chunks from Alice in Wonderland and throwing them on a page. It’s specific thoughtful, witty, funny commentary about Lewis Carroll’s words, and then mixing the two together. I grew up on the Disney version, too. As a child, I obsessively watched it. So trying to rejigger my brain to the original text was was hard. But I think it worked out very well. Had you read it before, Sarah?
Sarah Harrison 14:17
No, I hadn’t.
Emily Schwartz 14:18
What did you think?
Sarah Harrison 14:19
It’s wild. It’s not an easy book to read. I have an annotated copy. It’s a compilation, not just of the original illustrations, but of so many illustrators who have done illustrations of it over time. I actually got it for Halloween costume inspiration a few years ago. All the way from the original Illustrator to like Ralph Steadman, who did the illustrations for Pink Floyd. They’ve all done Alice.
Carolyn Daughters 14:51
And Fear and Loathing in the in Las Vegas.
Sarah Harrison 14:55
Yeah, he did all that. So I’m reading and then I’m also reading the sidebar notes, and the notes are blowing my mind. Lewis Carroll was so smart, so literary. It’s going in these directions and making arguments and I was like, I had no idea that this was about.
Emily Schwartz 15:15
That’s the thing. It’s topical for the time, right? The jokes makes sense for the time. So trying to explain to current 2023 high school students why this joke was funny, and what the mouse is talking about with his tail is a lot to unpack.
Sarah Harrison 15:38
A lot of his poetry was making fun of current-day children’s poetry. I recently went to an exhibition at a school where they were quoting Lewis Carroll’s poetry, and I was like, it’s making fun of children who have to quote poetry. Was that meta, or was that an accident? It seems really hard. In our last episode, we discussed the Agatha Christie Poirot books and the Hercule Poirot movies and the way they try to take the author’s original work and turn it into something theatrical and the challenges you run into there.
Carolyn Daughters 16:27
One example of screen adaptations deviating from Agatha Christie Poirot books is from the ITV/PBS series version of Murder on the Orient Express. David Suchet stars in that version as Poirot. At the end of that version of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot is conflicted at the end. He knows 12 people committed this murder and 13th person was involved. He is going to walk away, but you see him standing there, looking out in the distance. And you get how upsetting this is to him, you see on his face. This was not the way to achieve justice in his mind. Poirot’s reaction in the ITV version is not in the book. That was a decision that was made when they were creating this television series. And so I think with Alice in Wonderland and with Murder on the Orient Express — with any adaptation to some degree — it’s not just about how you make it different. It’s about, what’s my goal? What do I want viewers to take away? And how do I get them there? How do you get people to understand the story and to feel what you want thenm to feel? For the television series, it was important to the writers and producers to make viewers feel like Poirot is not the sort of guy who just waves away murder. He’s not the kind of guy who says, “Hey, you 12 murderers, thumbs up. All good.” We don’t get that depth of character in the book, but we do get it in the TV series, which is, I think, an interesting choice.
Emily Schwartz 18:15
No, absolutely. Yeah, it is definitely interesting, especially to take something so well known and put your own voice or stamp onto it., nd how do you think it should be viewed, nd how funny is it actually? How emotional is it? That’s always so interesting, because as a person and as a writer, I’m used to having the ability to have my initial instinct on the page versus having to think about how somebody else wanted their work to be portrayed. It’s definitely interesting in that respect.
Carolyn Daughters 18:59
How do you handle doing something different than what’s in the book because you’re putting your spin on it, to what degreedo you have a responsibility to honor the text? People may not even ever go back to the text. So they see this thing, and then they think oh, this is Alice in Wonderland or this is Murder on the Orient Express. And it may be different than the actual text. Is there a responsibility there, or do viewers have a responsibility to go back to source material and actually, dare I say, read?
Emily Schwartz 19:43
Go back to the source if you want the true story. Especially with something like Crippen, which we were talking about previously. There there is a ton of mystery behind it because I don’t know Crippen. He’s dead. I don’t know his true story, I don’t know his motivation. I’m making it up. But I can do my best version of it from the documents that I have and the interviews and the court transcripts. In terms of Murder on the Orient Express, I just reread the book and have a general idea of how the Agatha Christie Poirot books work. In Orient Express, there’s Poirot’s initial reaction to the character of Ratchett. His initial reaction is, “This is an evil person. I don’t know why he’s just evil. And I’m walking past him.” Then we get to the point at the end, where Poirot is sort of like, “Okay, well, we’re gonna button it up. We’ve made a choice. Good day to everyone.” It really doesn’t feel like there’s a deep choice that was made for the BBC version. Who knows if there is this mactor choice? Who knows if that was in the script, or if that was the actor or director making that choice? There’s so many different fingers in the pot. It’s interesting to think like, who was the one who said, “This needs a little more gravitas. We’ve got to give Poirot pause over this.” Versus saying, “This is clearly a terrible person, and I’m glad he’s dead.” Sounds good to me, thumbs up.
Carolyn Daughters 21:23
It’s in a later season of the ITV series. They had been developing the character of Hercule Poirot over many seasons. So maybe it was a way to honor the character as he had evolved in the series. But it’s really interesting. Monsieur Bouc, Dr. Constantine, and Poirot are the judges and jury here. The Serbian police are going to show up any minute. They can hold the killers accountable. Or they can say that somebody fled the train and that nobody on this train committed a murder. It puts them in a really interesting power position — or a potentially uncomfortable position. Because who wants to be the guy who’s like, Hey, I know three of us have to decide, and I hate to be this guy, but I really feel like this should go in front of a jury.” It’s a really interesting ending. Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, Murder on the Orient Express has one of the most interesting endings from my perspective.
Emily Schwartz 22:33
It’s a moral versus the “right solution” or the correct solution of who actually murdered this man. Poirot lays it all out there. He’s like, I know you all did it. And it’s a direct choice to say, moralistically, I’m fine with letting everyone on this train get away with stabbing a man to death in the middle of the night as retribution for another horrible crime that I didn’t witness, and through the court system he was deemed not guilty. Is that why Murder on the Orient Express continues to this day to be among the top five mystery novels of all time? Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, is this one talked about so much because of this emotional versus factual choice? Is that present in other mystery novels where you’re presented with the solution? I’m sure it is, I just don’t know if you two have experienced that before, this kind of quandary.
Carolyn Daughters 23:31
Where a detective figures something out and then they have a decision to make. Do I reveal the truth, or do I hide the truth. In the TV series, it feels as if he’s going to hide the truth, but he’s going to carry that to his grave. Through the language he uses, the verbal language, body language, all of it, you get this sense that he’s going to let this pass, but he looks to the sky and thinks to himself that he will pay for this decision.
Sarah Harrison 24:07
That’s interesting. Emily, you made an interesting point. When you’re in a theatrical production, there are so many more fingers in the pot than there are as a solo novelist who doesn’t even take interviews. Like Agatha Christie Poirot books. Several times in Murder on the Orient Express, I was like, what’s with Poirot? Ratchett approaches Poirot from the very beginning says he thinks someone’s gonna kill him. He asks Poirot to help. He knows who Poirot is, and he thinks he’s a wonderful, amazing detective. And Poirot is like, Nah, I don’t like your face. What does that mean? Does that mean, “I don’t care if you die?”
Emily Schwartz 24:59
That’s a deep question. He doesn’t really know who this person is. It’s the aura of evil around the character, a character has really not done anything that evil.
Sarah Harrison 25:10
Is Poirot that confident in his ability to read someone? In the book, he’s that confident that his reading is correct and that whatever does happen to this person is on them. And he’s not going to divert a possible murder. The very next day, Ratchett is dead. If it were me, I would have been like, oh, no, I could have helped someone. And I said, No, and now he’s dead. But Poirot is like, Nah, I’ll help solve the mystery of his murder though. In the Agatha Christie Poirot books, Poirot seems to show compassion to victims. Here, he says Ratchett isn’t a potential victim — he’s evil.
Carolyn Daughters 25:41
What if Poirot had misread Ratchett? Can we read evil on someone’s face? I mean, have either of you ever seen someone or met someone — you’re on a train, you walk through the car, and you see someone who’s evil personified?
Sarah Harrison 25:58
It’s hard to get confirmation.
Carolyn Daughters 26:01
Poirot also lacked confirmation. And he said, No, Ratchett, I will not help you.
Emily Schwartz 26:06
I think crazy. I don’t know about you, two. I’ve sometimes wondered, am I right? Is this person crazy? I’ve had that confirmed, where you’re looking at someone and you’re thinking, Okay, you’re going to come and interview for me, or we’re going to work together or I get some information about you beforehand. And I see a photo and I say, you have crazy wet eyes. Are you crazy in person? Yes. In fact, they do end up being a bit. So there’s something about that ability as a human to read, facially.
Carolyn Daughters 26:43
Like a gut feel.
Emily Schwartz 26:45
Like a gut feeling. But I mean, honestly, you could in the complete same story have been totally wrong. You know, where that gut feeling has been wrong. You come away thinking, what a wonderful human. You’re exactly right. What if Poirot had just been wrong? The fact that Ratchett had these letters threatening him as well. We’re following the letters throughout the whole story. Can I ask, since you are both now super familiar with this book, why did they take the time to write the letters? Why are they warning him about murdering him? There’s nobody that’s trying to really warn him. Is it just to mentally terrify him that they’re coming? Is this the Countess just writing a letters to stress him out and get him mentally? But like, wouldn’t you not want someone to know that you’re coming to murder them if you’re creating a murder plot?
Carolyn Daughters 28:05
That’s a good question. Because there’s one letter they attempted to destroy, right, the one that identifies Daisy Armstrong’s name. You would think if the the plot hinges on some stranger on the train who murders him, why wouldn’t the letters be coming from some stranger who says that business deal we had in New York two years ago … like make up the reason why they would kill him.
Sarah Harrison 28:36
That’s very pragmatic. I’m reminded of like, every movie ever, where the villain stops before he executes the hero and explains to him what’s going to happen and why he’s going to kill him and how he deserves to be killed. They just really need to get that off their chest, even though it ends up being their undoing. Agatha Christie Poirot books seem to have some of those same tendencies.
Emily Schwartz 28:59
Do they need Cassetti to know that it was them?
Sarah Harrison 29:02
Without that letter, they never would have known it was Cassetti.
Emily Schwartz 29:07
The group of 12 maybe wants him to know. Also, I guess, in terms of seeing them on the train, maybe you don’t recognize everyone entire group of people. Maybe you’re just ruining so many lives that it’s just too many faces to remember. But, if he’s really looking around and thinking, Hey, I know every single person on this train … It’s been decades at this point, I know, in this story.
Carolyn Daughters 29:46
It has been a handful of years, I think.
Sarah Harrison 29:56
The younger sister grew up and got married.
Carolyn Daughters 30:00
I think it’s maybe five years. But if we think of an actual judge and jury, that’s one reason why people make an argument that they want to go to court. They want to be able to confront the person who committed this crime. They want the murderer to hear from the judge that justice will be served and he or she will be punished. Ratchett is drugged. He’s not aware he’s being stabbed ostensibly, right? Even the first stab, he’s just not aware of it. Maybe this is their way of saying, we want him to live in fear, so we have to send him these letters. Even though we’re going to drug him, even though we’re going to stab him in his sleep, he will know. He will live in fear until the event happens.
Sarah Harrison 31:09
I mean, it’s not the pragmatic choice.
Emily Schwartz 31:12
If I had received letters like that, I would maybe change my travel plans.
Carolyn Daughters 31:19
I’d have a security guard. I wouldn’t just have this secretary and this valet. Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, this one seems most confusing as to the forewarned victim’s lack of preparation.
Sarah Harrison 31:26
Yeah, the secretary and valet were both in on it.
Emily Schwartz 31:28
I would have a better hiring practice. Do a little bit of a deeper dive in your interview process.
Carolyn Daughters 31:36
I don’t know that it would be like randomly on a train, I would see this Belgian detective and say, That’s the guy I’m gonna get to protect me. I’d have a different guy with me probably on the train. He’d be standing guard outside the door or even inside the room.
Emily Schwartz 31:51
You got that thug, criminal money, the mastermind money, so you can easily hire somebody from Istanbul to protect you.
Carolyn Daughters 32:00
Exactly. He was so careless. Careless with his own life. So, okay. I love travel. I Sarah, I know you love travel. Emily, I suspect you love travel.
Emily Schwartz 32:19
I love travel.
Carolyn Daughters 32:22
See, I was able to read your face. I looked at your face, and I was like, she’s a traveler.
Emily Schwartz 32:29
Like she has crazy eyes, but she loves travel.
Carolyn Daughters 32:37
Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, this one has stuck with me the most. I’ve long wondered how to get on this Orient Express train. Poirot is catching the Istanbul to Calais, and then he’s going from Calais to London. But to get to Istanbul, he’s starting in Syria, which is hard to do these days. So it’s a much different world in 1934. I’m ready to follow the route. I’m ready to get off at each city for one to two nights and then get back on the train. I want all the luxury, by the way.
Sarah Harrison 33:20
At none of the cost.
Carolyn Daughters 33:19
Yeah, not the $30,000/night. Somehow I’m awarded this trip. We get podcast of the year or something like that. What would you like for your prize? We would like to ride the Orient Express from Istanbul! But yeah, I mean, it makes me want to travel. How did you both feel? Was there a romance to the train travel for either of you?
Emily Schwartz 33:29
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I have a Pinterest board with Orient Express on it. Of all the Agatha Christie books, this one has stuck with me the most.
Sarah Harrison 33:44
Oh, do you have a Pinterest board with Orient Express on it?
Emily Schwartz 33:54
Yes, for years. Yeah, this has been like a dream for years.
Sarah Harrison 33:59
We should put the link in the show notes. Can we link to Pinterest?
Emily Schwartz 34:04
Many of the Orient Express routes were offline for years, and they’ve actually revamped several of the cars. So I started out in the early 2000s able to take the Orient Express in my mind and then it paused for many years. And it was very sad to realize it was not no longer available. But it’s come back, ladies and gentlemen. My grandmother traveled so frequently when I was younger, and she’s my travel muse really when I was growing up in the 80s. She was a teacher for many, many years, but her dream was to see the world. My grandpa didn’t really like to travel, so she’d take a girlfriend and say okay, well we’re gonna go to Stonehenge, or let’s go to Venice, or we’re going to Budapest. She was always across the globe, seeing these wonderful and fantastic places and then coming back with way too many pictures of mostly sheep. A lot of long views from the windows of moving coach’s and shots of sheep. She also took me on my first mini world tour when I graduated from high school. That was her gift to all of her grandchildren was taking them wherever they wanted to go in the world. And my cousin and I graduated in the same year, and we chose this sort of around Europe, starting in London and making the making the rounds from to Strasburg, to Munich, to Venice, to Paris. We did that baby world tour. I was so fortunate to be able to do something like that at such a young age. So yeah, I’d love that. I’d love to travel more, again. Especially, I’d love traveling with girlfriends. So Sarah and I have been talking about what do we do next? We both have pretty young children. So old mom, young kid …
Sarah Harrison 35:56
It’s a narrow genre of travel.
Emily Schwartz 36:01
It is. I used to travel pretty frequently with friends up until baby time, and now that he’s a little bit older, travel is on the horizon again. The Agatha Christie Poirot books have inspired me.
Sarah Harrison 36:19
I’m a major train lover. It’s funny you mentioned your grandma. My grandma was also a travel inspiration for me. She went to Egypt. She would always bring me back these cool little souvenirs. My first international travel was with my grandma.
Emily Schwartz 36:38
Does it make you nostalgic for the thing that you didn’t have, which is traveling in a time where every location is really so true to itself, versus now you would travel out and there’s a Subway sandwich shop in Lucerne. You can go to the Subway and get the same tuna sandwich that I would get in Indiana.
Sarah Harrison 37:01
You can, but of course you don’t. I’ll admit, I have gone to the McDonald’s in Moscow. And that is because it is nothing like the McDonald’s in America.
Emily Schwartz 37:16
Yes. Now, I went to Singapore for work recently, and I found myself in the airport on the last day and McDonald’s was there. It’s one of my great shames that I’ve just admitted to you on this podcast that I ate a McDonald’s breakfast.
Sarah Harrison 37:31
Was it the same or was it different though?
Emily Schwartz 37:35
It was the same. I can’t believe that I’ve said that out loud — and to your lovely listeners. What an embarrassing thing to admit.
Carolyn Daughters 37:48
Emily Schwartz, folks, if you want to write her about the Agatha Christie Poirot books or about McDonald’s.
Sarah Harrison 37:52
It’s only me now, folks.
Emily Schwartz 37:55
Carolyn Daughters 37:56
Emily and I have both been kicked off the podcast.
Sarah Harrison 38:02
I’m just gonna monologue.
Emily Schwartz 38:05
You traveled by train too, Sarah, right? You did a sleeper car recently?
Sarah Harrison 38:09
Yeah, I’m a huge train lover. My first train was actually through Russia. In addition to the Orient Express, I’ve been looking up the Siberian Express, but that is not offered in today’s current climate. Maybe it’ll come back again one day like the Orient Express. But Denver has a great train. It goes straight through to San Francisco. So we took that as an overnight sleeper car. I was hoping for a little more space, I’ll be honest. I was pregnant at the time, so I was also hoping for a little bit more pillows. But it was cool. You get to sit and watch. It’s an area of the country that’s gorgeous. You fold out your beds at night. It was interesting in the book to hear about how the conductor really provides a lot of service in terms of coming and making up your beds while you’re at dinner. Well that does sound useful, actually.
Emily Schwartz 39:10
It does. It took me a minute with the Wagon Lit conductor and the language in the book, especially since I was listening to it this time. I was like, what the hell is a Wagon Lit conductor? It just means sleeping car conductor, the sleeping car compartment conductor. That took me longer than it should to realize who the heck that person was. I’ve done a sleeper car when I was little. My grandfather worked for the railroad, so we were really fortunate to be able to travel that way back and forth. I had cousins who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so we would go from the Midwest to Albuquerque and see them. I remember lbeing on the top bunk and looking out the window in the nighttime and seeing the countryside roll by. And then suddenly we were in the mountains. It is beautiful and romantic. I don’t know nowadays. My child mind has it as a romantic experience.
Sarah Harrison 39:59
We heard that on the train, too. Nate and I were on there, and people were on the train saying, “I was on this train as a child. Oh, how much I loved it and we’d like to take kids on the train.” How old were you? Because that’s what I’m not sure. Like, when are you old enough such that it’s cool to be on the train and not painful. Two is too young.
Emily Schwartz 40:19
I was young. I mean, I think I was probably five. And then when we were older, we didn’t do the sleeping car anymore. We did the overnight in the seats. I would not recommend that.
Carolyn Daughters 40:32
That is so hard.
Emily Schwartz 40:33
We was we had a huge storm in the middle of Colorado, and the Amtrak train car started to fill up with water. It was raining in through the door. The aisle was like a little river. All our feet were up on the seat in the middle of the night and the train wass rocking through the mountains. It was an excellent murder mystery setting, perfect for Agatha Christie Poirot books.
Sarah Harrison 41:08
I worked on a train as well. So that was exciting. That was an exciting bit of work. They actually let me go all the way to the front to the engine and stand on the front of the engine, outside of the engine. Go through the canyons and stuff. It was rad. I loved it.
Emily Schwartz 41:26
I love their lack of safety. They must have had good insurance for you.
Sarah Harrison 41:32
It’s like the Alaskan guide handshake or something. If you’re helping tourists in Alaska, you get to do everything in for free. So I did Jeep tours, I did helicopter tours, I did everything. Because there’s just this reciprocal thing. And if it was your lucky day and the conductor liked you, he’d let you walk forward to the front of the Alaska railroad and stand up there.
Emily Schwartz 41:56
Think about the Wagon Lit conductor in Murder on the Orient Express having to sit in that little chair and wait to see if the bell rang. What, people needed a sparkling water basically at that point in time? It’s like 3am, buddy, you don’t need sparkling water.
Sarah Harrison 42:11
I liked that they had the same brand of sparkling water. Was it Perrier he was getting? They did remind me of our past conversation about the other books and the other detectives. I was thinking about Perry Mason, right, whose moral compass is the legal system. He would never, I think, have chosen to let anyone off the hook. He would have been like, “Okay, well, it’s gonna have to be decided in court. It’s gonna have to be decided by the legal system. It’s not up to me to decide.”
Emily Schwartz 43:09
If Perry Mason were to have a moralistic choice. Let’s say he said it has to be decided by the legal system. But who would take the fall? It’s going to be the grandmother because of the knife and a sponge bag.
Sarah Harrison 43:21
I think it depends on who he’s representing. He’s not necessarily interested in who is taking the fall, except that he’s interested in doing everything he can to get his client off and giving them the best argument possible. So if he was representing Mrs. Hubbard, he’d get her off. I he was representing Cassetti, he would get him off. He wouldn’t make a moral choice. His moral choice is to do the best to defend his client.
Carolyn Daughters 43:52
There’s that movie The Fugitive. If you ladies recall, it’s Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. And there’s a scene where Harrison Ford is escaping. Tommy Lee Jones catches up to him and there’s a gulf or ravine between them. And Harrison Ford yells to Tommy Lee Jones, “I’m innocent!” And Tommy Lee Jones says, “I don’t care.” Tommy Lee Jones’ his job, his moral compass, is “I get you. And then somebody else figures out what to do with you. It’s not my job to figure out whether you’re the real deal or not.” Here, Poirot and two other guys make a decision. Of the Agatha Christie Poirot books, Orient Express is the one where Poirot plays judge and jury.
Sarah Harrison 44:38
What did you think about the alternate story? Poirot proposes the alternate story, and then immediately the other two guys are like, “No, that’s not what happened. That’s impossible.” And he’s like, I don’t know. You might like it. And they come back to the alternate story. What would you have done? Whether you were Poirot or one of the other deciders.
Emily Schwartz 45:09
I would go with the alternate story. I’m not gonna lie. It’s funny because it’s my moral judgment on you versus, versus facts. The story resonates because it seems like an obvious moral choice, right? It’s like, we know this is true. But I’d love to see somebody tear it apart, too. Like, how do we know this is true? What’s the other side of the Cassetti story? Is there an alternate version out there where it’s like, Okay, how did he get off? We know they say he got off because he basically paid people off or his money got him off. There’s really no other descriptor of how he got off or why he was acquitted of this crime. Correct?
Carolyn Daughters 45:57
No, there’s not. And so what if he didn’t have a pure evil face? What if he had the face of an angel? Is that a cop out for Agatha Christie to make him have a face of pure evil so that as readers when we hear the end, we’re buying in because evil deserves this particular fate? Is this ability to “read” faces standard in Agatha Christie Poirot books?
Sarah Harrison 46:29
I don’t know. I felt like she was building up to me, like, just almost the super humanity of Poirot. That goes back to the beginning. Like I don’t like your face. I don’t like your face so much that you can die. I will not intervene. Your life is your own. I have nothing to do with it. And he sticks by that decision the whole way through. He never second guesses himself. He never questions it like his read is his read, and that’s what he’s going with. I think he feels vindicated. Once he realizes this is Cassetti.
Emily Schwartz 47:07
Throughout the rest of the Poirot stories, are they moralistically? Do they involve a moral judgment as well as a logical deduction? Because we’re talking about Murder on the Orient Express. Now I need to deep dive into the 30 some other Hercule Poirot book. Is that an aspect of his character? Is he moralistically judging you?
Sarah Harrison 47:37
I won’t say which book, because I don’t want to give anything away, but he does let a murderer commit suicide. He doesn’t turn him in. He says, what happened is between you and me. I’ll tell the police tomorrow. And he implies that the killer would rather kill himself and save his family this embarrassment. In the other book we read, he handled the case in a bizarre way. And he said it was for the love of a woman — basically so this couple would get back together.
Emily Schwartz 48:19
So there is an emotional aspect to Hercule Poirot.
Carolyn Daughters 48:22
He’s a human being. He’s a complex in his own way. I mean, no character in Agatha Christie Poirot books comes off the page as super three-dimensional in my mind. I don’t feel you know everything about them or know as much about them as one can. Sherlock Holmes comes across, from what we’ve read, as somebody who loves the thrill of the chase. He loves figuring out who did it. He wants to reveal that criminal. He wants that intellectual challenge. Poirot also wants, I think, justice.
Sarah Harrison 49:06
Poirot likes the puzzle, too. I think he’s more interested in the puzzle. On the train, he’s like, Oh, good. I was getting bored. I’ll take the case. I wouldn’t take the case to protect him, but I will take the case now that he’s dead.
Emily Schwartz 49:21
It’s a fascinating book in that respect. Because you when you think about this book, I wonder if this is why the movie adaptation isn’t as successful. Because it’s a lot of interviews. You’re just sitting in a room and you’re, as a reader, experiencing Poirot listening and taking in information. It’s him interviewing different people and this book, there’s obviously 12 of them and a 13th. It’s a lot of storytelling, and it’s so fascinating to me at the end of it when he calls out the moments of when a character cued him into the fact that they may not have been who they said they were. The moments are very, very subtle. It’s like with the German woman, where he asked her about her cooking. Have all of your employers liked your cooking? And she said, Oh yes, all my ladies like my cooking. But then as a lady’s maid, no one would have ever experienced her cooking. She’s there to dress them and do other things. But to my current -day mindset, I don’t know what a ladies maid does. Maybe in the 30s, I would have read that and said like, pause!
Carolyn Daughters 50:35
Why is this lady’s maid cooking?
Emily Schwartz 50:37
Exactly. To me, now I’m like, sounds good, great cook. Something that may have been more of a piece of information to tweeze out is now something that just went right over my head. When he called it out, it made sense at the end, obviously. But it’s fascinating that it builds until this final Poirot moment where he breaks it all down.
Sarah Harrison 51:01
Yes. All the Agatha Christie Poirot books have that. He gathers everyone and lays it out.
Emily Schwartz 51:09
Were there things that stuck out to you is constant mystery readers that were huge tells? I know, Carolyn, you said like, it’s so obvious to me, like clearly you are in it. You’re like in the mystery genre. You love it. For someone that’s more of a novice, I love mystery. But I am not going to say that I have like the deepest knowledge of all the different books. So your podcast is so great to get me reading things that I would not have normally picked up. So thank you, ladies, for that. What were the biggest tells to you? And I think we touched on this maybe in the last episode a little bit, but I’m so curious with these bits and pieces that have been pulled out.
Carolyn Daughters 51:52
For me, it’s that Poirot hearkens to America and he says Where else could there be all of these different people on this train represented? So then once he realizes America, then he is thinking about Daisy Armstrong, the child that was killed. And he then looks at every element of the Daisy Armstrong case, including the people involved and starts situating a cast of characters. Mrs. Hubbard could have been the mother. Dragomiroff was the godmother, we know that. This person could have been the cook … And he’s able to place everybody in a cast of characters once he understands the setting, America, and the situation, Daisy Armstrong, which is brought to light through that note that is discovered. Once the reader starts figuring out that every person in this car had a connection to this family, it’s either the best or the worst written mystery in the world.
Emily Schwartz 53:08
That should be on the cover of the book. Carolyn Daughters.
Carolyn Daughters 53:13
This book is crazy. Of all the Agatha Christie Poirot books, this one has more “coincidences” than any other. Does Agatha Christie really think her readers are so stupid as to believe that 12 different people randomly all booked the same train car from Istanbul to France. Really? Really? And so then you flip that around and you do just as Poirot did. The impossible has to be possible. Maybe they can all be in it.
Emily Schwartz 53:43
It’s just an accident that Poirot is there on this train, right? It’s like, oops, oh no the greatest detective of all time happens to be on your train. It’s just a series of bad accidents that keep happening. Oh no, the snowstorm has happened, the train is snowed in. Because, really, their initial plan isn’t half bad except, as I already brought up, for their mysterious and unnecessary letters. What a joy to murder someone back in history because really there’s no catalog of your train tickets that you can throw into a fireplace.
Carolyn Daughters 54:25
And no camera in the hallway watching 12 people all enter one by one.
Emily Schwartz 54:30
Exactly. No one’s really cataloging your movements at that point in time. I’m really impressed with their ability to organize 12 individuals in one travel schedule and actually make it to Istanbul.
Carolyn Daughters 54:48
Without three of them flaking out at the last second. Oh, turns out I double booked that weekend.
Emily Schwartz 54:59
I have a 5k, I’m sorry. Everyone was really just dedicated.
Carolyn Daughters 55:06
Big work project that weekend.
Emily Schwartz 55:08
Props to the group.
Sarah Harrison 55:14
On that note, we’ve hit time again. It has been a treat though. Thank you.
Emily Schwartz 55:21
I’m going to bring that word back into my personal vocabulary.
Sarah Harrison 55:23
I think you should, and I will also, and we will on the podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 55:29
So let me also thank you, Emily, for discussing Agatha Christie Poirot books with us — particularly Murder on the Orient Express. I also want to give everybody a heads up on our final book of 2023, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. It might be her masterpiece — although there’s much debate as to whether it’s her best novel some people say it’s Gaudy Night — many argue it’s her finest literary achievement. The murder method in the story, published in 1934, was unique. The idea came from a six-penny pamphlet that explained bell ringing.
You can learn more about Murder on the Orient Express and other Agatha Christie Poirot books, along with The Nine Tailors, on our website teatonicandtoxin.com. You can share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. Also be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. And leave us your five-star reviews!
Sarah Harrison 56:11
Yes, please. We’re everywhere you get your podcasts. We are there. All right. Thanks again, Emily. Thank you, Carolyn. And until next time, 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 →