Murder On The Orient Express

The motive for the murder in Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is evidently inspired by a real life crime: the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child. As a member of the Detection Club, Christie, like her fellow authors, shared a fascination with real life crime and, like other members, wove it into her fiction whether as in this case to provide a back story motive or as the main plotline.

The most famous example of this fixation by the club members was the collaborative book The Anatomy of Murder in which they propounded views and solutions to notorious real life crimes. Indeed, Dorothy L. Sayers contributions to that book – an essay on the murder of Julia Wallace (for which her husband was found guilty but subsequently released on appeal on the unprecedented basis that the jury could not reasonably have reached that verdict on the basis of the evidence presented) – is widely regarded as setting out the most plausible explanation for how the murder was committed.

Other famous crime stories have also been based on real life crimes. The earliest example might be Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, published in 1843, which is based on the murder of a retired Captain White by his nephews to inherit his wealth in 1830.

The gruesome 1957 murderer Ed Gein’s mother obsession is a clear inspiration for Robert Bloch’s 1959 Psycho and his methods were replicated by Hannibal Lector in Thomas Harris’s The Silence of The Lambs  in 1988.

More recently, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in 2008 draws on the murder of Catrine Da Costa, whose remains were dumped in bin bags in Sweden in 1984.

What, I think, sets these works of fiction apart from mere ghoulish recitals of true crime stories is that they transcend the horrific source material and create something new out of it. There is no disrespect to the victims and, in the final analysis, they must be read purely as fiction.

4 responses to “Murder On The Orient Express

  1. But on the other side of the argument, there is a matter of taste. Christie lifts the entire tale of Gene Tierney for The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side, a real life tragedy that affected the actress for the rest of her life (which overlapped the publication of the book by nearly thirty years). There’s no record of Tierney being aware of the book, but even so, it’s tasteless in the extreme considering the subject matter.


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