The Mystery Of The Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Blue TrainLe Train Bleu, the ideal way to get to the French Riviera. Katherine Grey, ex-resident of St Mary Mead, has come into an inheritance and has taken the train for her first trip abroad. Also aboard is Ruth Kettering, another heiress, who has split from her husband and is carrying with her an extremely expensive ruby. Needless to say (given this is an Agatha Christie novel) before the train reaches the Riviera, Ruth is found strangled. The ruby is missing – was it a case of jewel theft, or something more personal?

Luckily, Katherine has help as she tries to find identify the killer – for a certain M. Hercule Poirot is also travelling on the train. And while suspicion falls upon Ruth’s husband, Poirot has other ideas…

This is the fifth Poirot novel, although there had at this point also been a bundle of short stories, including The Plymouth Express, which this is based on, apparently. So far, the hit rate for the Belgian has basically gone Good (Styles), Reasonably Good (Links), Classic (Ackroyd) and Dreadful (The Big Four). And it would be another four years until Poirot reappeared in Peril At End House. And even more oddly, this is the first time that I’ve read this one.

I’m not entirely sure why not – it doesn’t have the dreadful reputation of The Big Four (which I also haven’t read) – but for some reason it passed me by when I first dove headfirst into Christie. And it’s a shame, as it’s rather good – odd, given that it was apparently Christie’s least favourite Poirot outing.

The character of Katherine, a young iteration of Miss Marple, is a good compliment to Poirot, who is on fine form here, playing along with the police at times, and is wonderfully condescending to them as they get the wrong end of the stick.

As for the killer? Reasonably well hidden, and while I spotted about half of the solution, I missed the other important bit.

So, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed this one. Well Worth A Look.

 

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22 comments

  1. Well . . . I love Katherine. In fact, I like all the women in this novel. I’m not the biggest fan of Hastings, and I think Katherine fills the Watson role well, as well as being a strong female character in her own right. As far as the murder plot goes, I’m less impressed. I fear that the sum total turns out less than its parts for me.

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  2. I’m afraid I’m with Christie on this one. It was the first of hers that I read, and it would be many years before I read another. The experience probably coloured my lifelong opinion of her work.

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    • The glamour! The intrigue! The characters who all have to have a K in their name to support a ridiculous clue…! Yeah, I think I’m with Christie too here, I’m afraid, although it’s far from her worst…

      It’s just an entirely different subgenre of detective story to what she normally writes, one which Christie wasn’t at all comfortable with. I still prefer it to something like Cat Among the Pigeons or The Clocks, though, with their weird mix of international intrigue and slice-of-life banality. At least in this one she goes all out!

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  3. Though this is the fifth Hercule Poirot novel, it is the first Poirot novel without a narrator, the story being told in the third person. The previous four novels all had narrators, Dr. Sheppard in Ackroyd and Hastings in the remaining three. An advantage of the story being told in third person is that Christie is able to express the thoughts of the various characters and hence there is better characterisation.
    As you mention, Christie disliked this novel. In the book An Autobiography, she writes,”That was the moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well. I have always hated The Mystery of the Blue Train, but I got it written, and sent off to the publishers. It sold just as well as my last book had done. So I had to content myself with that though I cannot say I have ever been proud of it.”(Chapter 7)
    And again,”…..if I thought a book I had written was really bad I should not publish it. However, I have come near it, I think, in The Mystery of the Blue Train. Each time I read it again, I think it commonplace, full of cliches, with an uninteresting plot. Many people, I am sorry to say, like it. Authors are always said to be no judge of their own books.”(Chapter 11)

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  4. I’ve read close to 70 Christie books and can tell you something meaningful and specific about all of them, down to individual characters in certain short stories. But this one…nothing. Not a single memory of any aspect. Which I suppose makes it like an unread, completely new Agatha Christie novel, so lucky me!

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    • There are a few that fall under the category for me – pretty sure I can’t recall anything of note about Sad Cypress… ditto Murder On The Links and Elephants Can Remember. Interesting that all three are generally regarded as “a bit crap”

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      • No, no, no, PD! Sad Cypress is in no way crap! Quite excellent, in fact, and something a little different for Christie. (But the other two are dreck, I agree.)

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      • I really liked Murder on the Links. The whole “second detective the narrator admires more” is so obvious a trope that it was quite wonderful to see Christie adopt it so fully and wittily, and adapt it to her needs so well. But then maybe I’m mis-remembering…!

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      • Ackroyd and Orient Express were the two I knew before starting, and how I’d love to be able to read them unaware. But, alas, not gonna happen. Also think I’ve had Curtain spoiled, too, but the Doc assures me it’s not that simple to do in the sentence I was possibly told. Here’s hoping!

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  5. Without even asking, I can guess what that sentence is. You can ruin Ackroyd or Orient Express with four words. I doubt you could do that with Curtain (or with a single sentence of any length.) it’s far from my favorite Poirot, but it has so many interesting aspects that I look forward to discussing with you one of these days.

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    • Curtain actually IS my favourite Poirot (although on some days Death on the Nile with edge it). And while it’s a shame to have had a major part of it spoiled, there’s a lot more to it than that, despite its numerous flaws. Whereas the other two, Orient Express especially, add up to considerably less than the sum of their parts, I think.

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      • Well, if we want to quibble, I could agree with you, Richmcd. Orient Express suffers from that Ngaio Marsh dependence on interview after interview. It would benefit from having fewer suspects (which, of course, it can’t) but I think the sum is pretty thrilling. The whole final third breezes by for me.

        Ackroyd is a fairly pedestrian village mystery, except for the ending. But I like the Sheppards very much. Dr. S. is a good narrator, and Caroline is a great character. Some say she is the model for Miss Marple, which I don’t see AT ALL. Again, the final chapter almost makes up for all the cliches beforehand.

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      • I’ve aired my main issues with Ackroyd plenty of times (the solution just doesn’t make any sense! How could the murderer know anyone was listening at the window?) but I think the most interesting thing about it is that, as you say, it’s deliberately disguised as an extremely bog-standard village mystery. Which is a gutsy trick, but one that works by deliberately sabotaging the potential of the first 95% of the novel. Are there any other mysteries that try the same thing? The Sheppards do make up for a lot of it – they’re two of Christie’s best characters – but I’m still not sure I can get behind making a book deliberately generic just for the sake of a sting at the end.

        Orient Express will always be a complete snooze though, and Poirot at his most bone-headed. If he can solve Death in the Clouds just by seeing the contents of a suitcase, he ought to have been able to solve Orient Express in his sleep!

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  6. Well, I read MOTOE when I was 12 (my second Christie), and I jumped out of my chair. I didn’t think mysteries could have solutions like that. Of course, when you think about it, none of it makes sense at all! Why go to all the trouble to kill Ratchett that way? How was the scheme adjusted when Poirot showed up? (Or was it always going to be that way and the belief was that the local cops would never catch on? Still, that doesn’t account for the woman in the scarlet silk kimono!) And of course (SPOILER ALERT), at the end, when Poirot says, “REDACTED” you have to ask yourself how else do you explain the extraordinary coincidence of a household of folks all being in the same car together across the world. So that third section would seem like a drag since the answer is so obvious. But to this teen, it wasn’t obvious at all. Later, when I read Death on the Nile – an infinitely better book but just as outlandish a scheme – I thought it was just a given of the genre that so many strangers on one steamer would have a motive to kill the same woman. But there I thought Christie pulled it off much more naturally than, say, the film version (which I love but which simplifies everything.)

    I’m rambling on! Sorry!

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  7. I finished “Blue Train” with mixed feelings. On the plus side, the writing was agile, everything at the right pace and put in a way that grasped my attention. It was delightful to read (except for the French phrases and expressions, which were ridiculous even to me, with my very rudimentary knowledge of that language, let alone to a native speaker, I suppose…). But the solution was really disappointing.

    I WAS surprised, I hadn’t guessed the killer, but what frustrated me was two things: first, in the greatest whodunits, especially Christie’s, the clues are all laid before you as the plot unravels, and you only don’t solve the mystery yourself because you don’t have the genius mind of a Poirot to discern what is relevant and what isn’t, and why and how. That’s the deal. But “Blue Train” can only be solved with additional information that you learn only at the end, and Poirot doesn’t explain how he obtained that information or even how he thought that it would be a good idea to look for it. Unfair game, you couldn’t have guessed it with what you already knew. Very un-Christieish…

    Second, I found the solution poorly constructed. Everything does fit and explain it all, but I found some parts very forcibly fit – they didn’t fit very naturally. The supernatural part of the solution was particularly hard to swallow, because it was totally unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot and the solution.

    Still, this is far from being among the worst Agatha Christie books. I’d still recommend it, even though it’s not one of the greatest either.

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