The Mystery of the Blue Train (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: UK: Collins, 1928; USA: Dodd Mead, 1928

My review

Although Christie’s least favourite work, this, a reworking of The Plymouth Express, is very far from being a bad work. While the plot is rather dated – concerning, as it does, a fabulous jewel, a super criminal, elegant (i.e., titled) adultery with two unpleasant foreigners, the Riviera and more than a touch of snobbery – it is done with the author’s usual style, sophistication and ability to convince. Poirot is in good form, although perhaps a shade too omniscient, shrewd and avuncular (shades of Mr. Satterthwaite); he needs a foil to humanise him, and such remarks as, ‘There are two people who know… One is le bon Dieu…and the other is Hercule Poirot’ seem rather megalomaniac. The solution is very clever, involving the guilt of the most unlikely person and an ingenious alibi relying on impersonation (the ancestor of Evil under the Sun), anticipating the master-works of the 1930s.

Throughout the 1930s, reviewers thought that this, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Death in the Clouds, and Murder on the Orient Express were her best works.


Blurb

Since the beginning of history, jewels have exercised a baneful spell.  Murder and violence have followed in their wake.  So with the famous Heart of Fire ruby.  It passes into the possession of the beautiful American woman, Ruth Kettering, and doom follows swift upon it.  Whose hand was it that struck her down?  Were the jewels the motive for the murder, or were they only taken as a blind?  What part did the beautiful foreign dancer play?  These are some of the questions that have to be answered, and the story tells also how these strange and dramatic happenings affect the life of a quiet English girl who has felt convinced that “nothing exciting will ever happen to me.”  She uses very nearly those words to a chance acquaintance on the Blue Train – a little man with an egg-shaped head and fierce moustaches whose answer is curious and unexpected.  But even Hercule Poirot, for it is he, does not guess how soon he will be called upon to unravel a complicated and intricate crime when the Blue Train steams into Nice the following morning and it is discovered that murder has been done.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (3rd May 1928): Hercule Poirot, on holiday in his retirement, travels by the Blue Train to the Riviera which contains the millionaire’s daughter, her remarkable rubies, her husband, whom she was on the point of divorcing, the dancer with whom he has just broken, and the adventurer who has made every preparation for stealing the rubies.  She is found murdered, and the case is, so to speak, imposed by circumstances upon Poirot.  As the lady died intestate her otherwise ruined husband stands to gain her large fortune, and, as he has been heard to wish she might die suddenly suspicion naturally lights upon him.  As her rubies have vanished it also lights upon the adventurous rogue whose fraudulent alibi is shattered by Poirot.  But all this is too obvious, and it would be a daring author who would permit the two senior suspects to be really guilty of more than mendacity or at most of unduly economising the truth when giving evidence.  Besides, Hercule Poirot could never be unleashed upon so simple a scent.  So the reader will not be disappointed when the distinguished Belgian on psychological grounds declines to suspect the arrested husband and, by acting upon the inspired suggestion of an ugly girl who consistently derides her preposterous mother, builds up inferences almost out of the air, supports them by a masterly array of negative evidence and lands his fish to the surprise of every one.

Spectator (12th May 1928, 80w): Enthralling mystery story, in which she reintroduces Hercule Poirot, the fascinating little French detective.  [Non!  Poirot is not a fascinating little French detective; he is a fascinating little Belgian detective.]

Ind (28th July 1928, 130w): This time Miss Christie pursues conventional detective story methods, and by following conventional guessing you will probably discover the murderer.

Books (NY Herald Tribune) (Will Cuppy, 12th August 1928, 150w): Here is none of your fly-by-night dreadfuls, but a truly notable thriller in the right classic tradition, warranted to restore the jaded reader’s faith in clews.

Bookm (October 1928, 180w): As in all her stories, Mrs. Christie is a bit slow in getting under way, sacrificing speed to characterisation, but in the end her technique justifies her delay.  If the tale does not attain the high quality of Roger Ackroyd, the reappearance of Detective Poirot will more than compensate the reader.  And the murderer, by the way, does not commit suicide.