Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trains Are Not Safe Places

As some of you know, over the past year, I have been on an Agatha Christie kick. It has yet to subside. Her writing is just too fantastic to pass by. The latest golden egg of hers, that I have now put in my basket, is probably her most famous of the Hercule Poirot series, Murder on the Orient Express.

The current version of the Orient Express train.
I must confess about three years ago I watched the film with Sean Connery and Ingrid Bergmann (not as pretty as she used to be) so I knew the ending. That being said, Christie still had me engaged the entire book.

Her characters weren't flat or one dimensional but rather began to reveal themselves rather plainly and enjoyably before the reader and even more plainly in front of the masterful intellect of Monsieur Poirot.

The basic plot is Poirot and a full cast of very different characters are on the Orient Express on their way back to Europe from the Middle East. The train gets stuck in a snow drift and one of the passengers winds up dead stabbed 12 times. Poirot is hired by his friend, who runs the train, to solve the mystery. He slowly, meticulously and rather brilliantly, I may add, goes through the evidence. He cannot rely on background checks but rather he has to read each of the cast of characters to figure out the culprit.

Because it is a mystery there is a reveal at the end as in any whodunit. So this is where the road stops for those readers who have not yet read the book or watched the film. You now enter at your own risk


First of all I must say Christie nearly outdoes herself in relation to And Then There Was None. She flips everything and yet keeps the status quo. Everyone is a suspect in both plots, in the latter it ends up being only one person in the plot at hand it is all of the people. They all took part in the murder of a man who held ransom the grandchild of a famous actress which caused the mother of the child to commit suicide. Each of the cast of characters either worked in the house of the family or were related to the people at hand. They knew the perpetrator would not receive justice so they enacted a communal justice to the man.

The question as a Catholic is two-fold: Who enacts justice? And is murder justifiable?

These people obviously thought it their duty, as citizens but also as people intimately connected to the victims, to enact justice where they saw justice due. Is it their role as private citizens to enact justice? Or is that the role of the state? I think the Church would lean toward the latter because the latter exists for the common good which includes the enactment of justice. When justice is taken into the hands of private citizens it inevitably leads to anarchy. Each person become his/her subjective arbiter of justice (not to say the state's arbitration of justice is totally objective, but that's another discussion).

Murder, under no circumstance, is justifiable. The end does not justify the means. The telos of any good human act must for the good, in an objective sense deriving from the goodness of God, of the person.

We can see here though that if not kept in the check sin can beget sin. Someone is the victim of a sinful action. If the response to that action is not in charity, one runs the fine line of following the footsteps of their oppressor/victimizer.

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