I re-read this title recently – one of Christie’s early Poirot mysteries – after having watched the ITV version starring David Suchet. The most recent of these TV adaptations have generally deviated quite a lot from Christie’s originals, to the extent of changing characters’ motivations and thus removing from the plots essential justification for the murder. Though if one can watch them without thinking of the Christie originals, they’re often quite fun – if slightly preposterous.
The Mystery of the Blue Train is one of my favourite Poirot mysteries, partly due to the setting, and partly because the characters and their behaviour are interesting (and often amusing). The novel begins in Paris, with the purchasing of a ruby necklace containing the fabulous ‘Heart of Fire’ by the American millionaire Rufus van Aldin. An attempt is made that evening to waylay and rob him, but the attempt fails, and the reader is introduced to an enigmatic character who goes by the name of ‘The Marquis’, and to Mr Papadopoulous, dealer in antiques, art and jewels. Van Aldin returns to London unharmed and pays a visit to his daughter Ruth, who is unhappily and detachedly married to the Hon. Derek Kettering. Van Aldin presents her with the necklace, and advises her to seek a divorce from her husband on the grounds of infidelity.
Also introduced are Derek Kettering himself, and his mistress – the dancer, Mireille – who is able to tell Derek that his wife (with whom he evidently does not live), will be travelling shortly to the Riviera on the fabled ‘Blue Train’. Katherine Grey, who has recently – and unexpectedly – inherited a lot of money from the elderly lady to whom she was a companion, also is planning to travel to the south of France on the Blue Train, and will be staying with a cousin, Lady Tamplin.
Christie arranges all the characters on board the train with care, and manages to introduce Katherine to both Ruth and later, to Hercule Poirot, with whom she strikes up conversation. It is only when the train arrives at Nice that the grisly murder of Ruth Kettering, and the theft of her ruby necklace are discovered. Poirot offers his assistance to the local police, and Van Aldin himself, hurriedly summoned from London, asks his aid, which Poirot is pleased to provide.
Then follows a nice unravelling of the plot, with everyone having motive more or less – Derek himself, who would have come into a lot of money on his wife’s death; the Comte de la Roche, Ruth’s lover, a con-man who evidently planned to rob Ruth of the ruby, but in such a way that she could never admit to it; the mysterious ‘Marquis’; and Mireille, who wanted a rich lover (and would not have been averse to wearing the rubies). Katherine aids Poirot in his investigations, finds two admirers – Kettering and Van Aldin’s secretary, Richard Knighton – and returns to England.
I think the charm in this novel is in the logic and care with which Christie plots – the eventual denouement is apt if dramatically revealed; however, she does play fair with the reader in having provided all the clues. The setting is nicely evoked, with sufficient detail that one feels in the warm sun of the Riviera, but without that detail overwhelming the novel, and there are several minor characters whom Christie allows to be amusing or instructive. Katherine is an appealing heroine, and I rather like the awkward Lennox Tamplin, Lady Tamplin’s daughter.