Murder, She Wrote

Murder on the Orient ExpressAfter I survived the surgeon’s knife, I was told to put my feet up and let nature do the healing so I’ve been doing the bare minimum to keep the wheels on the bus of Jack Scott enterprises. I must admit, my lolling about on the sofa has involved a fair amount of daytime TV – a thin diet of magazine programmes, flashy quiz shows, racy gossip, silly soaps, mindless vox pop, meagre news and convoluted whodunnits. It’s all been quite soporific and great for helping me catch up on my sleep. This healing lark is so exhausting.

Occasionally though, a classic grabs my attention and holds it for the duration. Such is the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express with a stellar ensemble headed by Albert Finney in the role of Hercule Poirot, Ms Christie’s fey and fussy Belgian detective. I’ve seen the movie loads of times. It’s hugely OTT and I can only assume that the cast laid down bets during the first read-through on who could ham it up the most. My vote goes to Wendy Hiller as the ageing Russian princess, all lacy widow’s weaves and truly dreadful Romanov accent. She would have given the Bolshies a run for their money. Sadly, along with Dame Wendy, most of the players are now dearly departed – Anthony Perkins, Ingrid Bergman, Rachel Roberts, Denis Quilley, Colin Blakely, John Gielgud and, of course, the fabulous Lauren Bacall who popped her clogs just last month.

It’s rumoured that Agatha Christie wrote at least some of her famous book when she stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul back in its glory days, the digs of choice for princes and presidents visiting the Ottoman capital. I’ve lodged there myself a couple of times during its more recent rundown years. Or as I put it in the new book (cue the plug):

“The Pera Palace was once the opulent end of the line for the Orient Express but had fallen on hard times, a piece of Istanbul’s neglected family silver in dire need of a good buffing.”

Chapter Eight, The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

It was Liam’s first visit to old Constantinople and we endured four seasons in three days – driving snow, bitter winds, low grey clouds and sparkling sunshine under blue skies. Our room at the Pera Palace was so cold, we were forced to share the huge antique bathtub to keep warm. It wasn’t too much of an imposition. Since then the hotel has been buffed to buggery with a multi-million lira facelift. Even the prolific and profitable Ms Christie might now baulk at the rack rate (if she were still alive, that is).

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