The Mystery of the Blue Train
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||C. Morse (pseudonym of Salomon van Abbé)|
|Publisher||William Collins & Sons|
|29 March 1928|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||296 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Big Four|
|Followed by||The Seven Dials Mystery|
The Mystery of the Blue Train is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by William Collins & Sons on 29 March 1928 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The book features her detective Hercule Poirot.
Poirot boards Le Train Bleu, bound for the French Riviera. So does Katherine Grey, who is having her first winter out of England, after recently receiving a relatively large inheritance. On board the train Grey meets Ruth Kettering, an American heiress leaving her unhappy marriage to meet her lover. The next morning, though, Ruth is found dead in her compartment, a victim of strangulation. The famous ruby, "Heart of Fire", which had recently been given to Ruth by her father, is discovered to be missing. Ruth's father, the American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin, and his secretary, Major Knighton, persuade Poirot to take on the case. Ruth's maid, Ada Mason, says she saw a man in Ruth's compartment but could not see who he was. The police suspect that Ruth's lover, the Comte de la Roche, killed her and stole the ruby, but Poirot does not think he is guilty. He is suspicious of Ruth's husband, Derek Kettering, who was on the same train but claims not to have seen Ruth. Katherine says she saw Derek enter Ruth's compartment. Further suspicion is thrown on Derek when a cigarette case with the letter "K" is found there.
Poirot investigates and finds out that the murder and the jewel theft might not be connected, as the famous jewel thief The Marquis is connected to the crime. Eventually, the dancer Mirelle, who was on the train with Derek, tells Poirot she saw Derek leave Ruth's compartment around the time the murder would have taken place. Derek is then arrested. Everyone is convinced the case is solved, but Poirot is not sure. He does more investigating and learns more information, talking to his friends and to Katherine, eventually coming to the truth. He asks Van Aldin and Knighton to come with him on the Blue Train to recreate the murder. He tells them that Ada Mason is really Kitty Kidd, a renowned male impersonator and actress. Katherine saw what she thought was a boy getting off the train, but it was really Mason. Poirot realised that Mason was the only person who saw anyone with Ruth in the compartment, so this could have been a lie. He reveals that the murderer and Mason's accomplice is Knighton, who is really The Marquis. He also says that the cigarette case with the K on it does not stand for 'Kettering', but for 'Knighton'. Since Knighton was supposedly in Paris, no one would have suspected him. Derek did go into the compartment to talk to Ruth once he saw she was on the train, but he left when he saw she was asleep. The police then arrest Knighton and the case is closed.
- Hercule Poirot.
- Rufus Van Aldin, the American millionaire, Ruth’s father
- Ruth Kettering, Van Aldin’s only daughter, Derek’s wife
- Derek Kettering, Van Aldin’s son-in-law, Ruth’s husband
- Ada Mason, Ruth Kettering's maid
- Armand the Comte de la Roche
- Monsieur Carrege, of French police
- Commissary Caux, of French police
- Charles Evans (a.k.a. Chubby), Lady Tamplin’s younger husband
- Mr. Goby, Rufus’s informant
- Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, Katherine’s good friends in the village
- Joseph Aarons, Poirot’s acquaintance, an expert in people with “dramatic profession”
- Katherine Grey, an ex-companion to Mrs. Harfield, to whom the other’s wealth is left in her will
- Major Richard Knighton, Van Aldin’s secretary
- Hon. Lenox Tamplin, Lady Tamplin's daughter
- Mirelle, a Parisian dancer, Derek’s lover
- M. Papopolous, the jewellery dealer, an acquaintance of Poirot’s
- Lady Rosalie Tamplin, Lenox’s mother, a cousin of Katherine’s; with whom she stays in her villa
- Pierre Michel, the train’s attendant
Influence and significance
The novel's plot is based on the 1923 Poirot short story "The Plymouth Express" (later collected in book form in the US in 1951 in The Under Dog and Other Stories and in the UK in 1974 in Poirot's Early Cases).
This novel features the first description of the fictional village of St. Mary Mead, which would later be the home of Christie's detective Miss Marple. It also features the first appearance of the minor recurring character, Mr Goby, who would later appear in After the Funeral and Third Girl. The book also features the first appearance of Poirot's valet, George.
Mere months after this novel was published, prolific French novelist Arthur Bernède published "Le mystère du train bleu" in late 1928. A murder mystery adventure featuring Bernède's own popular detective, Chantecoq, the story is set in Paris and the plot is completely different. It seems likely, however, that Bernède was hoping to benefit from Poirot's popularity.
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement gave a more positive reaction to the book than Christie herself in its issue of 3 May 1928. After recounting the set-up of the story the reviewer concluded: "The reader will not be disappointed when the distinguished Belgian on psychological grounds declines to suspect the arrested husband and, by acting on the 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 everyone".
The New York Times Book Review of 12 August 1928 said, "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."
British crime writer and critic Robert Barnard declared: "Christie's least favourite story, which she struggled with just before and after the disappearance. The international setting makes for a good varied read, but there is a plethora of sixth-form schoolgirl French and some deleterious influences from the thrillers. There are several fruitier candidates for the title of 'worst Christie'."
References or allusions
One of the characters in Death on the Nile recognises Poirot because of his involvement in The Mystery of the Blue Train: "Miss Van Schuyler said: ' I have only just realised who you are, Monsieur Poirot. I may tell you that I have heard of you from my old friend Rufus Van Aldin." Ironically, that line was retained in the television film, even though Death on the Nile was broadcast first.
The novel was televised in 2006 as a special episode of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot, and was aired by ITV on 1 January starring David Suchet as Poirot, Roger Lloyd-Pack as Inspector Caux, James D'Arcy as Derek Kettering, Lindsay Duncan as Lady Tamplin, Alice Eve as Lenox and Elliott Gould as Rufus Van Aldin.
The television film The Mystery of the Blue Train includes several changes from the original novel. In the film, Ruth's lover is travelling on the train with her, and they are both fleeing her husband. Lady Tamplin, Corky and her daughter Lenox also travel on the blue train. Ruth becomes friends with Katherine Grey. They switch train compartments, and when Ruth is bludgeoned to death, making her features unrecognisable, Poirot speculates that the intended victim may have been Katherine. Rufus, Ruth's father, has a wife in the film, who became insane after Ruth's birth, and Rufus has ensured her (his wife's) safekeeping at a convent, where she has become a nun. New characters were added to the film; at one point, one of the other passengers, who happens to be Rufus's mistress, visits Rufus's wife, who mistakes the passenger for her daughter Ruth. In the movie Ada Mason tries to kill Katherine (because Knighton falls in love with Katherine and Ada is jealous), but Lenox jumps on her and bites her on the neck. At the end of the film, the murderer, Major Richard Knighton, commits suicide by having himself run over by an oncoming train, instead of just being arrested by the French police as in the novel. The television film also shows Lady Tamplin's fourth husband (Corky by name) acquiring a ruby for her. In the novel, Lady Tamplin's fourth husband is named "Chubby", and he has nothing to do with the ruby.
At the end, Katherine expresses a desire to travel, saying that she intends to take the Orient Express from Vienna. She asks Poirot if he has taken that train, and he says he has not. However, in a bit of ironic foreshadowing, Poirot says that, he would like to take the Orient Express someday, while Katherine talks about the romance of the train.
In contrast to the book, the setting of the film appears to be the late 1930s, given the music styles played, including the song "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)", as well as the clothing and hair fashions depicted.
The Mystery of the Blue Train was adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4, with Maurice Denham as Poirot. It was broadcast in six parts weekly, 29 December 1985 - 2 February 1986. This was the first of the adaptations of Poirot novels by BBC Radio.
The Mystery of the Blue Train was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 3 December 2007, adapted and illustrated by Marc Piskic (ISBN 0-00-725060-6). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of Le Train Bleu.
- 1928, William Collins and Sons (London), 29 March 1928, Hardcover, 296 pp
- 1928, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1928, Hardcover, 306 pp
- 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (As part of the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Seven Dials Mystery and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardcover (Priced at seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1940, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 276 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 691), 250 pp
- 1954, Pan Books, Paperback (Pan number 284)
- 1956, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 194 pp
- 1958, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 248 pp
- 1972, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 286 pp, ISBN 0-00-231524-6
- 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 286 pp, ISBN 0-396-06817-0
- 1974, Dodd, Mead and Company (As part of the Murder on Board along with Death in the Clouds and What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), Hardcover, 601 pp, ISBN 0-396-06992-4
- 1976, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 423pp, OCLC 2275078
- 2006, Easton Press, Hardcover/Leather, 278 pp
- 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1928 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 5 March 2007, Hardback ISBN 0-00-723438-4
The writing of this book (part of which took place on the Canary Islands in early 1927) was an ordeal for Christie. The events of 1926, with the death of her mother, her husband's infidelity, and her breakdown and ten-day disappearance, had left a deep psychological scar and, now separated from Archie Christie and in need of funds, she turned back to writing. The story did not come easily to her and she referred to this novel in her autobiography stating that she "always hated it". Her biography recounts how the total number of words in the book were carefully tallied up, showing what an ordeal Christie found it to be. It later had an effect on her in the midst of wartime when, nervous that at some future point she might be in need of funds and need a fallback, she wrote Sleeping Murder and locked it securely in a bank vault for future publication. Curtain was written at the same time and similarly locked away, but publication of this latter book would not be possible until the end of her writing career, as it recounts the death of Poirot.
The Mystery of the Blue Train was first serialised in the London evening newspaper The Star in thirty-eight un-illustrated instalments from Wednesday 1 February to Thursday 15 March 1928. The entire first two chapters were omitted from the serialisation and it therefore contained only thirty-four chapters. There were slight amendments to the text, either to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g. changing "She then..." to "Katherine then..."), or omitting small sentences or words, especially in the opening instalment where several paragraphs were omitted. A reference to the continental Daily Mail at the start of chapter six (chapter eight in the book) was changed to "the newspaper" to avoid mentioning a competitor to The Star. Three chapters were given different names: chapter nine (eleven in the book) was called Something Good instead of Murder, chapter twenty-six (twenty-eight in the book) was called Poirot hedges instead of Poirot plays the Squirrel and chapter twenty-eight (chapter thirty in the book) was called Katherine's letters instead of Miss Viner gives judgement. The final chapter, called By the Sea in the book, was unnamed in the serialisation.
This is the only major work by Agatha Christie in which the UK first edition carries no copyright or publication date.
Christie's dedication in the book reads: "To the two distinguished members of the O.F.D. – Carlotta and Peter".
This dedication is a direct reference to the events of 1926 which included the death of Christie's mother on 5 April, the breakdown of her marriage to Archibald Christie, and her famous ten-day disappearance in December that year. These were events which disturbed her for the remainder of her life and Christie learned that people she expected to be allies in her time of need turned away from her. One person who didn't was Charlotte Fisher (born c. 1901 – died 1976), who had been employed by Christie in 1924 as both her own secretary and as a governess to her daughter Rosalind. When the events of 1926 were starting to recede, Christie states that she "had to take stock of my friends". She and Fisher (to whom Christie referred affectionately as both "Carlo" and "Carlotta") divided her acquaintances into two separate categories; the Order of Rats and the Order of Faithful Dogs (O.F.D.) – chief among the latter group, Christie put Charlotte Fisher for her steadfast support. Also named in this latter group, and the second subject of the dedication of the book, is Peter, Christie's beloved terrier, who had been purchased for Rosalind in 1924. Peter's devotion to Christie at this time was never forgotten by her and she returned that affection, writing to her second husband, Max Mallowan, in 1930 that "You've never been through a really bad time with nothing but a dog to hold on to." Peter was also the subject of the dedication of Dumb Witness (on the dustjacket of which he is pictured), published in 1937, one year before his death. Charlotte Fisher, together with her sister Mary, also received a second dedication in a book in And Then There Were None in 1939.
The blurb of the first edition (which is carried on both the back of the jacket and opposite the title page) reads:
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 effect 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.
- The Observer, 25 March 1928 (p. 11)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The English Catalogue of Books. Vol XII (A-L: January 1926 – December 1930). Kraus Reprint Corporation, Millwood, New York, 1979 (p. 316)
- Bernède, Arthur (1871-1937) Auteur du texte (1928). Les nouveaux exploits de Chantecoq. Le mystère du train bleu / Arthur Bernède.
- The Times Literary Supplement, 3 May 1928 (p. 337)
- The New York Times Book Review, 12 August 1928 (p. 17)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 200). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- "The Mystery of the Blue Train". Hercule Poirot on BBC Radio. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
- Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (p. 164) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6.
- Christie, Agatha (1977). An Autobiography. Collins. p. 358. ISBN 0-00-216012-9.
- Morgan. (p. 164)
- Morgan. (p. 163)
- Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie, An English Mystery (p. 168). Headline, 2007 ISBN 978-0-7553-1487-4
- Morgan. (p. 358)
- Christie, Agatha (1977). An Autobiography. Collins. pp. 339–340. ISBN 0-00-216012-9.
- Morgan. (p. 192)