Agatha Christie, born in England in 1890, started writing crime novels randomly. Her first book, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” originated by two circumstances which took place all at once: during the First World War the future writer was helping out as a nurse in a hospital, where she learnt many notions on poisons and the misuse of many medicines.
Besides this, many patients sent to the front left their books in the hospital. By reading novels that had characters such as Arsène Lupin, Sherlock Holmes or Joseph Rouletabille, in Agatha Christie started growing this urge of making up a similar figure, which later on turned to be Hercule Poirot.
In the cover the modern reconstruction of a restaurant with the Orient Express. Picture by Didiaszerman – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
14 years before the publication of her first book, one of the best novels with Poirot as a main character came out “Murder on the Orient Express”. Since the very beginning, the readers of Mrs Christie realised that the story in which the detestable businessman Samuel Ratchett was murdered on the most famous train of the world had drawn inspiration from a murder case. That was the kidnapping and killing of Charles Lindbergh’s son, first aviator who did a solo transatlantic flight.
In the novel, Ratchett was not accused of the murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr, but he was executed by those who had suffered the most for the kidnapping and murder of a baby girl, Daisy Armstrong. The killers, 12 people acting together were finally revealed by the talented Belgian detective when the train got stuck in Croatia (back then called Yugoslavia) for a snowstorm.
In reality, for the kidnapping of the young Lindbergh, a German immigrant named Bruno Hauptmann was arrested, taken to trial and executed.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
If a tragic news story was the inspiration of the novel, a previous journey on the Orient Express gave to the writer the perfect location. The author happened to find herself stuck in the luxurious train for 24 hours due to heavy rains. Furthermore she came to know of heavy snowstorms that more than once had blocked the train even for 6 consecutive days. In a letter to her second husband, the archeologist Max Mallowan (that she met for the first time in her trip to Orient), she told him about the forced stop of the train, the disposition of the cabins, the handles of the doors and the light switches, all details which would have ended on the novel.
Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan
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Mrs Christie had always been fascinated by the Orient Express. In her autobiography she wrote:
“All my life I had wanted to go on the Orient Express. When I had travelled to France or Spain or Italy, the Orient Express had often been standing at Calais and I had longed to climb up into it”.
The writer had travelled a lot with her first husband, the colonel Archibald Christie, who in 1926 cheated on her with his secretary and then asked for a divorce. In order to recover from this situation, Agatha travelled across Europe and Asia. There she met Mallowan and the two got married in 1930.
The writer loved to keep company to her husband in his adventurous archeological trips, during which she had not many requests:
“All I wanted was a table in a bazaar. I was able to keep my clothes inside a trunk, I have used my trunk as a chair where to sit and I was keeping it near my bed. But what I had to have if I wanted to work was a solid table on which I could write and place my legs underneath”.
Room 411 of the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul
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It seems that Mrs Christie wrote down “Murder on the Orient Express” while her husband was busy with an excavation in Iraq. She was waiting for him in Istanbul, in her room number 411 of the Pera Palace Hotel, today turned into little museum in her honour. The novel was dedicated to MELM, acronym for Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan.
The book was considered as one of her biggest success, where the brilliant talent of Hercule Poirot gives its best in statements such as:
“the impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances”.
Above: first edition of the Agatha Christie’s book published in Italy, revised by the Fascist party
Interesting is what happened to the first edition published in Italy: when the book was about to be published in 1935, the country was the midst of Fascism, forcing publishers to cut any type of connection to suicide, sex or offence to the Italian population.
In the Italian “revised” version, simply titled as “Orient Express”, the two shady Italian-American men Cassetti and Foscarelli turned into O’Hara and Pereira, respectively English and Brazilian. In 1970 the translation was in part fixed, but only in 1987 the book was published with the complete text and a way closer version to the original one.