Queen of Crime was big on mys­tery

Christie’s most fa­mous novel gets new life on big screen

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This week­end the Ori­ent Ex­press pulls into the sta­tion, bring­ing with it mur­der and may­hem. Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press fea­tures an all-star cast in­clud­ing Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench and Daisy Ri­d­ley. Di­rected by and co-star­ring Ken­neth Branagh as Bel­gian de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot, the of­ten-filmed mys­tery is based on the book of the same name by Agatha Christie first pub­lished in 1934.

The sen­sa­tional story of a mur­der —13 strangers on the lux­ury train and an in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s race to solve the puz­zle be­fore the killer strikes again — is Christie’s best-known novel, but it is just one of 66 de­tec­tive nov­els she penned in a ca­reer that spanned more than five decades.

“I think peo­ple have been pretty tough on her,” Branagh told The Guardian. “They’re sus­pi­cious of the vol­ume of her out­put.”

It’s true that the au­thor’s om­nipres­ence on book­shelves, 20th cen­tury house­hold-name sta­tus and mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity — over two bil­lion copies of her books have been sold world­wide mak­ing her one of the best­selling au­thors ever — didn’t en­dear her to the lit­er­ary elite, but Branagh sees her dif­fer­ently.

“Per­son­ally I ad­mire the pro­lific na­ture of what she does … her abil­ity to grab the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion is re­ally strik­ing,” he said. “The sur­face of what she writes has led peo­ple to dis­miss her as a sec­ond-rater. But I think she is far more than that.”

Christie’s pub­lic per­sona was that of a but­ton-down grand­mother with a macabre imag­i­na­tion, but she led a re­mark­able life.

In an es­say for Ra­dio Times, Branagh writes, “This was a woman full of sur­prises.” He goes on to de­scribe how the au­thor be­came the first Bri­tish fe­male surfer to hang ten in Hawaii. “It was 1922,” he writes. “She was fully up­right, scant­ily clad, and 32 years old.”

An­other episode from her sto­ried life feels like it could have been ripped out of the pages of one of her books. The year was 1926. Christie was on the verge of a divorce from her first hus­band when she van­ished, leav­ing be­hind only her aban­doned car, an ex­pired driver’s li­cence and some clothes.

Al­ready con­sid­ered a na­tional trea­sure, her mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance was front-page news. Some thought it was a pub­lic­ity stunt, oth­ers won­dered if she was try­ing to frame her hus­band for mur­der.

Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle, cre­ator of Sher­lock Holmes, tried to solve the mys­tery with the help of a psy­chic. When Christie re-emerged 11 days later, af­ter living un­der an as­sumed name in a small ho­tel, she of­fered no clues as to what had hap­pened.

Christie never pub­licly com­mented on those miss­ing days, not even in her of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy.

Now, 91 years later the mys­tery will likely never be solved. So much time has passed that not even Christie’s great­est cre­ation, Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press’s mas­ter de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot, could get to the bot­tom of this mys­tery.

Ni­cola Dove/TweN­Ti­eTh ceN­Tury Fox

Judi Dench, left, and olivia col­man star in the of­ten-filmed Mur­der on the ori­ent Ex­press.

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