THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN by AGATHA CHRISTIE

THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN by AGATHA CHRISTIE

We begin this 1928 murder mystery in Paris, with an un-named man meeting a secretive jeweller.

The scene quickly shifts to London and two rich Americans who live there, Rufus Van Aldin and his daughter and only child Ruth, the Hon. Mrs. Derek Kettering, an heiress unhappily married to her philandering husband. The first time we meet the father and daughter duo, who are very close and fond of each other, the topic is divorce, still frowned upon in the 1920s, in an era where the husband controlled the wife’s life and finances – in this case Ruth’s fortune.

Within the first couple of chapters, Ms Christie has skilfully the stage, giving us hints, a troubled backstory, as well as planting a few seeds of doubt in our minds as to the veracity of her characters.

Ruth sets off for the south of France on the luxury “train bleu” – the titular Blue Train.

The Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is also on the train.

As is Ruth’s husband, though they are not travelling together.

Add into the mix a fabulous ruby, the famous “Heart of Fire,” a smooth-talking “Comte”, and a young woman who has recently inherited a fortune, and one has all the elements of another “classic” Agatha Christie whodunnit, though taking place this time against the backdrop of Mediterranean skies rather than the usual English country estate.

Katherine Grey, the young woman who has recently inherited a fortune, is a delight – the strong young woman I enjoy looking out for in every Christie novel.

It is always fun to see a literary hero like Poirot through the eyes of one of his fellow characters, in this case the self-contained, observant Katherine:

”Her vis-à-vis tonight was…a small man, distinctly foreign in appearance, with a rigidly waxed moustache and an egg-shaped head which he carried rather on one side.”

Then there is a suspicious death on the train.

Hercule Poirot who, although technically retired, is the man on the spot.

When a jewellery theft is subsequently discovered, it becomes the apparent motive for the murder in the minds of the local investigators, but M. Poirot is not convinced:

”The psychology is at fault. The Comte is a scoundrel -yes. The Comte is a swindler – yes. The Comte preys upon women – yes. He proposes to steal Madame’s jewels – again yes. Is he the kind on man to commit murder? I say no! A man of the type of the Comte is always a coward; he takes no risks. He plays the safe, the mean, what the English call the lowdown game; but murder, a hundred times no!”

And so the inimitable Poirot, ignoring his retired status, sets out to investigate a different angle on the double crime.

As the New York Times Book Review said in its 1928 review:

“Nominally Poirot has retired, but retirement means no more to him than it does to a prima donna. Let a good murder mystery come within his ken, and he just can’t be kept out of it.“

And I’ll leave it right there. No plot-spoiling, I promise you.

As ever, a rattling good read, though not my absolute favourite Agatha Christie thus far. Apparently the author herself wasn’t hugely enamoured of this book, having struggled with its writing.

I did, however, love the setting – a luxury train wending its elegant way through France. Ms Christie really had an infallible eye for dramatic scene setting.

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