15 February 2009

Review: ACRC#8, THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN - Agatha Christie

Originally published by Collins in 1928. This version published by Harper Collins in 2001. ISBN 0-00-712076-1, 383 pages.

Ruth Kettering's journey to Nice on the luxurious Blue Train was her last. By the time the train arrived in Nice she was dead. But what was the motive? The presence of her husband on the train makes him an immediate suspect especially as he becomes heir to her considerable personal fortune. But what about the fact that her jewellery, in particular a necklace containing the fabulous ruby the size of a pigeon's egg known as The Heart of Fire, is missing, along with her maid?

The other element to the story is Katherine Grey, recently the beneficiary of an elderly woman's will, and on her way to Nice to stay with her relative Lady Tamplin. She meets Ruth Kettering on the train, and then Hercule Poirot in Paris.

Hercule Poirot is eventually engaged by Ruth Kettering's father to discover who murdered his daughter, and what became of the ruby necklace. He sees Katherine Grey as a key witness, an excellent judge of character, and involves her in his investigation.

THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN is set about ten years after World War 1, and Hercule Poirot has been "retired from his profession for many years." His former companion Captain Hastings does not appear in this story, although to a small extent he has been replaced by a valet George, whom Poirot uses at times as a sounding board.

One of the characters says of Poirot
    He is a very remarkable person....and has done some very remarkable things. He has a kind of genius for going to the root of the matter, and right up to the end no one has any idea of what he is really thinking.
Speaking of his own methods Poirot says
    I am now a lion - a giant. Ah, Mademoiselle Katherine, you have not seen me as I can be. You have seen the gentle, the calm Hercule Poirot; but there is another Hercule Poirot. I go now to bully, to threaten, to strike terror into the hearts of those listen to me.
    ...And I shall do it...Oh yes, I shall succeed
And he does. He browbeats the truth out of some, but there are still intuitive leaps he has to make. The interesting thing about THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN is that Hercule Poirot gets some of the answer wrong, and initially the wrong man goes to gaol. The novel goes further than most of the Agatha Christie novels I have read so far. We see Poirot still worrying at the result, realising things don't hang together so well, and persisting until he has got it right.

Christie claimed that this was one of the books she liked least, however the critics did not agree with her. The Times Literary Supplement said, “The reader will not be disappointed when the distinguished Belgian on psychological grounds 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 everyone”.

Other things of interest
  • I pointed out in reviews of earlier novels that I thought Christie was commenting on changing social conditions. This novel is set in the late 1920s and there are comments about the social structure, with a sense of a declining aristocracy, but still no understanding, by those who consider themselves aristocracy, of the lower classes.
    For example Lady Tamplin says of Ruth Kettering
    She has been a companion I tell you. Companions don't play tennis or golf. They might possibly play croquet-golf, but I have always understood that they wind wool and wash dogs most of the day.
  • Katherine Grey lives in St. Mary Mead, the small isolated village that Miss Marple will emerge from.
  • I posted last week about Christie's use of the word apache in this novel. I had noticed it in an earlier one, but it gets 3 outings in THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN.
So yes, I enjoyed THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN. It has stood the test of time very well. There are plenty of red herrings, a further fleshing out of the character of Poirot as a person that young women find attractive, and puzzles to keep the brain engaged.

My rating: 4.6

1 comment:

Robin M said...

Good review. Look forward to reading it.


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