Un­lock­ing the Mys­tery

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Jin­long Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

In the win­ter of 2017, the Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press adapted from the name­sake novel by Agatha Christie will be screened, al­low­ing au­di­ences to ex­pe­ri­ence the thrill of mur­der mys­ter­ies.

Ratchet, a rich Amer­i­can mer­chant, was killed on a train in the mid­dle of a bliz­zard. Ver­sions given by 12 pas­sen­gers tell of how the ac­ci­dent hap­pened. De­tec­tive Poirot finds that sus­pi­cion pointed at all of them. In the win­ter of 2017, the Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press adapted from the name­sake novel of Agatha Christie (1890–1976) will be screened at cin­e­mas. The name­sake di­rected by Amer­i­can film di­rec­tor Sid­ney Lumet (1924–2011) has long gained a grand rep­u­ta­tion. Granted, the full story on the train has been made pub­lic; but you can feast your eyes on the new de­tec­tive Poirot to get an in­side look at in­dus­trial tech­nol­ogy. You’re sure to ex­pe­ri­ence the thrilling noir of the mur­der mys­tery genre.

The Queen of De­tec­tive Nov­els

De­spite long-stand­ing de­tec­tive nov­els, 1841 was gen­er­ally recog­nised as the year of their birth. Like the de­vel­op­ments in days gone by, de­tec­tive nov­els had their own “Golden Age.” The Cask and The Mys­te­ri­ous Af­fair at Styles, for in­stance, were pub­lished in 1920; and com­mon knowl­edge has it that they both ush­ered in the Golden Age of de­tec­tive nov­els.

Agatha Christie (1890–1976), supreme and un­chal­lenged dur­ing the “Golden Age,” turned out to the au­thor of the lat­ter. She took up writ­ing at 26 and had many books to her credit for the rest of her life, in­clud­ing 68 long de­tec­tive nov­els, 21 novel­las and short sto­ries, 18 plays, one au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and two po­etry an­tholo­gies. Ac­cord­ing to the Guin­ness World Records, Christie was ar­guably the best-sell­ing au­thor of all time; and her works were trans­lated into over 103 lan­guages and the sales fig­ure stood at a stag­ger­ing 2 bil­lion. Of all works in all forms, the gross sales of the Bi­ble and works of Shake­speare (1564–1616) gain the up­per hand.

Christie’s nov­els showed a mul­ti­tude of truths—like the lux­ury train run­ning

through the Eurasian Con­ti­nent, the cruise ship across oceans, the lonely is­land at sea and cen­tury-long res­i­dence in the coun­try of Lon­don. Many new tricks were used in her nov­els. She ex­celled at dig­ging deep into in­trigue against each other and crim­i­nal mo­tives in a se­cluded world. The Mur­der of Roger Ack­royd, Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press and And Then There Were None ex­em­pli­fied this at their best. This was true to life in the Golden Age that “ev­ery­one is sus­pected and ev­ery­one is im­pos­si­ble.” In recog­ni­tion of her suc­cess, Christie re­ceived the “Edgar Grand Mas­ter Award” from the Mys­tery Writ­ers of Amer­ica (MWA) in 1955, the first of its kind ever (hence her nick­name—the Queen of Crime).

Apart from mys­tery nov­els and plays, Agatha Christie took a shot at other lit­er­ary forms. For ex­am­ple, Come, Tell Me How You Live was true to her life in the Mid­dle East, along with the chil­dren’s book Star over Beth­le­hem. More­over, she wrote sev­eral sen­ti­men­tal nov­els to her credit un­der the pseu­do­nym of Mary West­ma­cott. On Jan­uary 12, 1976, the 85-year-old Bri­tish writer passed away in her home in Walling­ford, Ox­ford­shire and was laid to rest in St. Mary’s Church­yard in Ox­ford­shire.

Poirot and Marple

Of all her nov­els and short sto­ries, Christie cre­ated two of the most fa­mous de­tec­tives. One is the Bel­gian de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot and the other the ru­ral de­tec­tive Jane Marple. Fic­tional as both of them were, they had a large fan base on a global scale.

Her­cule Poirot made his de­but in

The Mys­te­ri­ous Af­fair at Styles in 1920. It is re­counted of Poirot that he was of medium height, with an egg-like head; the up­per lip wore the straight, neat mous­tache and he even kept his body as clean as a whis­tle. By mod­ern stan­dards, he cap­tured the essence of Virgo. He paid ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to tidi­ness. Mean­while, he had ev­ery­thing co­or­di­nated and or­gan­ised for the mat­ter in hand, even the sym­met­ri­cal lay­out ac­counted in no small mea­sure for his res­i­dence in the White­haven Man­sions. The Mur­der of Roger Ack­royd turned out to be a block­buster and he swiftly rose to fame for his per­for­mance par ex­cel­lence in 1926. In his life­time, he fig­ured promi­nently in 33 nov­els and 48 short sto­ries. Fol­low­ing in his foot­steps, movie stars were cast as the same char­ac­ter— like Al­bert Fin­ney (born in 1936), David Suchet (born in 1946), Pe­ter Usti­nov (1921–2004) and Ian Holm (born in 1931). With its unique ap­pear­ance, Poirot was cast in a distinc­tive role from oth­ers and es­tab­lished him­self as a fa­mous de­tec­tive.

Jane Marple in the vil­lage of St. Mary Mead was on in­ti­mate terms with Poirot. The for­mer was listed among few fe­male de­tec­tives when it comes to mys­tery nov­els. For the first time in his life, Marple ap­peared in the book, The Mur­der at the Vicarage in 1930. Although in her 60s, was clear­headed and log­i­cal; and while re­lat­ing the facts, she tended to be brief and on firm ground (hence the name In­born De­tec­tive). How­ever, she felt a great com­pul­sion to stick her nose where it didn’t be­long. Peo­ple called her the “Old Cat” and the name has stuck. Marple re­ally lent it­self to films TV and the stage, as well as Poirot. Cel­e­brated ac­tresses like Mar­garet Rutherford and Joan Hick­son (1906–1998) were cast as this char­ac­ter in var­i­ous adapted ver­sions.

A Well-known An­swer to a Rid­dle

Pub­lished in 1934, the Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press was at­tended by the il­lu­mi­na­tion of The Lind­bergh Kid­nap­ping Case. Faced with pas­sen­gers de­scrip­tive of a jury, De­tec­tive Poirot’s de­ci­sion made this work hailed as one of the “Three Mas­ter­pieces of Agatha” by read­ers world­wide. The full story on the mur­der mys­tery of Ratchet was also made pub­lic.

With Sid­ney Lumet and Paul Dehn (1912–1976) as di­rec­tor and screen­writer, the Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press was screened in 1974. The movie boasted an all-star cast, in­clud­ing Al­bert Fin­ney, Lau­ren Ba­call (1924–2014), Martin Bal­sam (1919–1996), In­grid Bergman (1915–1982) and Sean Con­nery (born in 1930). Fur­ther­more, com­ing clos­ing to the orig­i­nal, the distinc­tive movie was shot through with a sense of the times and proved to be a block­buster, ei­ther in terms of art or box of­fice in­come. Al­bert Fin­ney was De­tec­tive Poirot was on the short­list of Os­car nom­i­nees for Best Ac­tor and In­grid Bergman won the Os­car for the Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress. In the decades that fol­lowed, Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press was adapted many times and screened. In honour of Agatha Christie, a Ja­panese TV sta­tion went so far as to make it a TV se­ries.

This time, Ken­neth Branagh (born in 1960) di­rects the Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press, and acts as De­tec­tive Poirot. In re­cent years, Ken­neth Branagh flung him­self back into the film in­dus­try. He not only di­rected such block­busters as Thor and Cin­derella, but played a sup­port­ing role in Christo­pher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit (2014) is an elo­quent tes­ti­mony to his skills. Mean­while, Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press boasts an all-star cast— such as Johnny Depp, Pene­lope Cruz, Daisy Ri­d­ley, Judi Dench and Josh Gad. As for a mys­tery which has long been firmly rooted in au­di­ence’s mem­o­ries, be­ing casted in a dif­fer­ent mould from its pre­de­ces­sor is the key to the suc­cess of the re­make.

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