The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Writer’s eighth novel is far from ‘disappointing’

The cover of the 2015 edition published by HarperCollins
The cover of the 2015 edition
published by HarperCollins
Six years before Agatha Christie’s famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express, was published, the Queen of Crime wrote another Hercule Poirot mystery where a murder is committed on a train.

Unfortunately for the killer, Hercule Poirot happens to be on the train at the time, travelling from England to the French Riviera on the famous ‘train bleu.’

The Mystery of the Blue Train, which was published in 1928, is reputed to have been Christie’s least favourite story. Nevertheless, the book received a positive reaction from the Times Literary Supplement at the time, who stated that ‘the reader would ‘not be disappointed.’  The distinguished Belgian detective uses psychological reasoning to dispute the guilt of the original suspect arrested by the police and, in the words of the review, ‘lands his fish to the surprise of everyone.’

The murder victim is Ruth Kettering, an unhappily married American heiress, who is travelling to France to meet her lover. On the train, she meets Katherine Grey, who for the last ten years has been a companion to an old lady living in the village of St Mary Mead. The old lady had just died and left her a substantial inheritance and Katherine is enjoying her first chance to travel abroad.

The two women have a conversation over lunch and Ruth invites Katherine back to her compartment, where she confides in her that she has misgivings about what she is about to do and doesn’t feel happy about having deceived her own father about her trip.

Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, as famously portrayed by David Suchet
Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, as
famously portrayed by David Suchet
Katherine does not see Ruth again and that evening finds herself seated opposite Hercule Poirot for dinner. The next morning, Katherine discovers that Ruth has been found dead in her compartment, having been strangled during the night.

It transpires that a famous ruby, ‘Heart of Fire,’ that has recently been given to Ruth by her wealthy father, is now missing. Later, Poirot is persuaded by Ruth’s father to take on the case and find his daughter’s murderer for him. The little Belgian detective doubts that the French police have arrested the right person and, helped by Katherine, uncovers the truth.

The Mystery of the Blue Train was priced at seven shillings and sixpence when it first went on sale in the UK.

The novel contained the first ever mention of the fictional village of St Mary Mead, which was to be the home of another of Agatha Christie’s detective, Miss Marple.

Agatha Christie is reputed to have found writing the book an ordeal, as the story did not come easily to her. At that time, she was staying in the Canary Islands while recovering from the death of her mother, her husband’s infidelity, and her own mental breakdown. In her autobiography, she stated that she had always hated the novel.

I particularly enjoyed the parts of the story set in the south of France and found the plot to be ingenious. If, like me, you are a Christie fan, you will find it well worth reading.

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