Now that Kenneth Brannagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express has steamed into theaters, it’s high time to draw attention to the many knock-offs and also-rans that cropped up in the wake of Agatha Christie’s 1934 hit novel. When you have such a rich concept as “locked room mystery, but on a moving vehicle,” it’s not hard to imagine others exploiting it.
Murder in the Sopwith Camel
Master detective Herve Pinochle must solve the murder of a flying ace done in while midair in his one-seater bi-plane. While at first inexplicable, Pinochle comes to the stunning conclusion that the pilot was killed by enemy fire, given that World War 1 was indeed going on at the time.
Murder on the A-Train
On the way to Brooklyn from Manhattan, streetwise detective Hammy Pathos comes across the body of a man recently murdered in a subway car. The other commuters, in true New Yorker fashion, claim to have seen nothing, despite being splattered with the victim’s blood. In the fashion of fiction of the era, Pathos makes a concluding statement about how the murderer was the entirety of New York City itself, the gargantuan concrete beast that feeds on the blood and dreams of the common man. When asked to clarify, Pathos shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head, points to the actual murderer and says “Nevermind, he did it.”
Murder on the Underground Funicular
Turkish police detective Hikmet Poyraz searches for a killer on Istanbul’s Tünel. While each of the traincar’s occupants have a reasonable motive for killing the man, Poyraz correctly surmises that it was not a common homicide, but the first salvo in a war with the underground-dwelling mole-men. Poyraz is ridiculed for his theory, but gets the last laugh when mole-men do indeed attack the city.
Murder in the ’67 Hatchback
Down on her luck private dick/post-modern cowgirl Portia Hercules finds herself on a bad trip in more ways than one while hitchhiking to Venice Beach. When one of the washouts she was traveling with ends up dead, Portia has to find the murderer before the whole car freaks out and dumps the body. Despite experiencing an impressively vibrant peyote-induced experience, Portia puts the clues together that it was the guy in the back seat with victim who did the deed. They end up dumping the body anyway, but not before Portly administers some of her patented “Beach Justice.”
Murder on the Maglev Express
The impressive magnetic levitation train to Shanghai may hover inches above the ground, but it does not hover above justice. Not when the world’s greatest detective and talking bear Herkimer Pollywoddle is on the case! After a comedic set piece involving Pollywoddle’s woefully inaccurate Mandarin—though he is told his accent is very good for a grizzly—a young man is murdered and Pollywoddle must find the culprit in the 8 minutes before the train reaches its destination. As with all the Herkimer Pollywoddle novels, it ends with at least five more “bear” puns than are necessary, and Pollywoddle “bear-ly” solves the case with seconds to spare. This is mostly thanks to a note in the dead man’s pocket saying “If I’m ever killed on the Maglev, it’s probably my brother."