Agatha Christie and trains go together like Hercule Poirot and a well-groomed moustache. She bloody loved them. More importantly, she bloody loved to see them feature in her murder mysteries. Nowadays, train travel doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as it may once have done. Although, it’s been about 8 months since I was last on a train so there might actually be some romanticism there right now. My morning commute was nothing very interesting but, now that it’s been taken away from me, I do miss it a bit. So, I thought I’d indulge in some train travel during my Christie month. This has never been one of my favourite Christie stories so I’m never that keen to revisit it. It was definitely time for a reread.
I always find it a bit weird reading The Mystery of the Blue Train knowing that Agatha Christie has so many negative feelings towards it. She hadn’t enjoyed writing it and didn’t feel as though the novel really came together. In her autobiography, she admitted that her major motivation was financial rather than creative. So, going in, you’re already prepared for it to be a bit of a letdown compared to her other work. Though, it’s still an interesting novel to read. Partly because of the time that it was written. Christie was going through a divorce with her first husband and was writing the book around the time of her mysterious disappearance. Meaning a novel that centres around a married couple who are contemplating separating could tell us a lot about the writer’s mind.
But how does it really fare as a story? The novel was an expansion of one of Christie’s earlier short stories The Plymouth Express. The characters and setting changed but the basic plot is pretty much the same. Ruth Kettering, daughter of an American millionaire, has decided to separate from her husband. Derek Kettering is in a financial hole and is have a secret tryst with a French dancer. Ruth leaves London for the Riviera travelling on the Le Train Bleu. She is planning to meet her lover but is killed before the train arrives at its final destination. When it is discovered that the rubies she was carrying have been stolen, the police assume it was simple train robbery. But is there more to this case than meets the eye?
Luckily, Hercule Poirot was also on board the Blue Train and can’t help but look into the case. At the behest of Ruth’s father, he starts investigating the victim’s secret lover. Although, the detective’s fellow passenger, Katherine Grey, provides an eyewitness account that places Ruth’s husband on the train. Katherine is on the train because she has recently inherited some money. She has lived a sheltered life in the village of St Mary Mead (this book offers us our first glimpse of Miss Marple’s home). She is a lovely and kind figure who makes quite an impression on everyone she meets. Including Poirot who becomes quite protective of the young woman.
Katherine is quite a charming character but she doesn’t leave the same impression as Christie’s other leading women. In fact, none of the characters really feel that memorable. Christie is a woman who excels at writing realistic people but nobody you meet here feels that spectacular. They all fall a little flat and I can’t help but wish for a little more. Don’t get me wrong, there are flashes of greatness but they are all so fleeting. Perhaps there were just too many characters and nobody was able to get the attention that they needed? It’s so early on in the Poirot series that not even the great detective has as much impact here.
That’s not to say that this isn’t an entertaining read. It offers plenty of intrigue and mystery. It isn’t the kind of book that you’d regret reading but it’s also not one that you’ll be in a rush to reread. It takes a long time to get going and the set-up is a little more complex than it needed. There are just a few too many strands laid out that the rest of the book just gets bogged down trying to tie them all together. I also think this is one of her more obvious books. The reveal of the killer feels a little underwhelming and isn’t that hard to figure out. You can really tell that she struggled to get this written. It’s by no means her worst but it’s hardly Christie at her best.