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==Synopsis of the book:==
American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin purchases for his daughter Ruth the spectacular rubies called 'The Heart of Fire'. She is delighted with his gift but has some bad news that does not surprise the father. After being married to the Hon Derek Kettering for several years she admits that she no longer loves him and she want a divorce. They had not been close for some time and both parties have other relationships they would like to pursue. Rufus happily agrees to set the wheels in motion knowing that by doing this he will ruin Kettering financially.
Ruth decides to take a trip on the Blue Train to the French Riviera to re-charge her batteries. But unknown to her there are several other characters known to her that will also be taking this mysterious train. However the lady she keeps bumping into is initially a stranger a Miss Katherine Grey who has recently come into money. This is after her companion she looked after for many years recently died and rather than give the money to her distant family she opted for Miss Grey who had attended her for the previous ten years. What will happen to these ladies on this luxurious train?
==My thoughts on this novel:==
I think on balance this was a good thriller. Although I must admit to have read it several times before, it still impressed me. It is a classic Agatha Christie featuring her unique Belgium Detective Hercule Poirot. This author is the most famous crime writer ever only being outsold by The Bible and Shakespeare. In total she wrote 39 books involving this Private Detective of which this is the sixth in the series and was written way back in 1928.
As a result of this mystery being written over 80 years ago, for some readers the concept behind the story and the subsequent investigation may appear very dated. However I tend to take the oppersite view, I enjoy going back in time to a more innocent time. When a Detective main weapon was using his intelligence to solve a crime. I think a well written and clever story is enjoyable regardless of if it was set last week or 100 years ago.
Although I did find a few aspects of the novel disappointing. For example I thought the novel's summary on the back of the book was poor. It did not set the scene nearly as well as it could have and did not mention a lot of the ideas behind the story that could have drawn the reader into the story, even before starting it.
When I started reading the story I also found it initially poor. The reason for this was the author used the first two chapters to introduce the concept of these very value rubies 'The Heart of Fire'. To be honest I found this chapter completed unnecessary and highly confusing. As it dealt with unusual names that I found hard to remember and characters I knew little about.
Following this however the story settled down to be the usual interesting, well written style. I found the story well structured and I very much liked the unexpected and very clever turns the author employed in classic Christie style so that it was never the person it first appeared. The pace was always good and in this story Poirot was excellent at explaining exactly what he was thinking and demonstrating to all what a first class Detective he is and far more intelligent than any Police force.
I found the many and varied way the story developed as excellent. There is something I really admire about using your 'Little Grey Cells' to solve the crime rather than forensic or DNA as you can now days. With a conclusion to the story that made perfect sense was cleverly incorporated so that it all fitted into what happened. And one in which I never saw coming and had never considered, even on the third time of reading as this was for me.
The only other thing that slightly surprised and disappointed me was Christie's very romantic and simplistic view on love. I just felt this let down the book as it made some of the characters appear somewhat simplistic in the way they fell in and out of love, without enough depth behind what was happening to them. It certainly demonstrated to me why she was a crime writer rather than a writer of romantic fiction.
The story was very short at just 240 pages, but within that time the author had written a well thought out story with some excellent unexpected twists that was rich in possibilities and always made you think and wonder about all the characters the author had created.
Poirot was the main character and where as sometimes he comes across as being pompas, I found him a little more down to earth in this story and easy to relate to. He appeared more human and seemed to be able to get on with all the characters and suspects far more as a result. I found as always his clever mind worked wonderfully well and always opened up new and previously unthought of ideas into the equation.
He was supported by a number of well thought out characters that I enjoyed but I always wanted to know more about as depth seemed to be lacking in this aspect.
I found this paperback on sale at Amazon for £4.99 and for me this represents good value for a good quality crime thriller.
I thought this was a decent enough crime thriller but a long way from one of the best that this brilliant author has written. I found it interesting going back in time to the 1920's and the clever way the author exposed the different between the have and the have not's within society. It was cleverly written and it was a real classic whodunit that even surprised me with the resolution.
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
@CPTDANIELS October 2011.
Agatha Christie, widely accepted as the Queen of Crime, was a prolific writer. Only outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible, she has sold over a billion books in English and a further billion in other languages. Her most famous creations are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, representations of whom can be seen regularly on our television screens.
This book features Poirot, the dapper little Belgian detective with his superior powers of deduction and moustache-twirling tendencies.
The plot of The Mystery of the Blue Train did feel slightly formulaic to my mind. A rich American beauty is married to an impoverished English cad, a man with expensive taste, trying to sustain his champagne lifestyle on his "shandy" income, including financing a high-maintenance and demanding mistress.
The American, after persuasion from her very wealthy Daddy, announces her intention to divorce her philandering husband citing his infidelity. She promptly gets murdered and robbed of the ridiculously expensive rubies she had been recently gifted by Daddy whilst on a train journey to meet her lover, another gent of dubious reputation.
Hercule Poirot coincidentally happens to be on the same train (along with her husband and a couple of other potential suspects) and he is called upon to assist the French police in investigating the whole sorry affair.
Throw in a handful of romantic sub-plots, a dash of unrequited love and a smattering of money-grabbing relatives and this somehow begins to feel like a hybrid of "Murder of the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile". There are spinsters, the whole "upstairs/downstairs" divide, inept foreign police and a multitude of red herrings - but nothing really that an avid reader of Agatha Christie won't have come across before.
Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy this book; it's well written with good characterisation and a passable plot. It has the whole wonderful period feel that Christie's book tend to evoke. And it has some good plot twists and I DIDN'T guess the "who-dunnit" outcome until very near to the reveal.
However, I believe I would have relished it more had I not read (and seen) "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile" previously, but having read a good number of Agatha Christie's Poirot books, I was slightly disappointed that this one failed to deliver something original or different. It was written prior to both of those books so it is perhaps my own fault for reading these books out of chronological order. I do feel a bit mean giving such a wonderful writer three stars for this book - it's certainly infinitely better that anything I could write! - but this is all about opinions, and I am honestly reflecting my gut-reaction when I finished reading this book.
If you are a fan of Christie, you will enjoy it as a classic in the genre - just don't expect any great surprises. If you haven't read Christie, but enjoy this genre, you will probably enjoy it as a good example of her work and it may entice you to explore her other works.
I borrowed my copy from the library but it is currently available on Amazon for £4.99 (new) and from 10p + P&P (used)
The lives of Katherine Grey and Ruby Kettering could not, for years, be more different from each other. A poorly paid and hard worked companion to an elderly woman, Katherine had seen the last ten years of her life living a safe if rather dull existence in the small village of St Mary Mead (incidentally this story does not feature Miss Marple in any way). In contrast to this Ruby Kettering knew of only luxury, devoted upon by her father who had recently bought her some rubies known as "The Heart of Fire" and able to buy whatever she wanted, if it was not for the unamicable separation between her and her husband and her attempts to keep her new liasons with a former partner hidden from her father, then she would have no concerns. Yet the death of Miss Harfield, the woman Katherine was companion to, saw the surprising revelation that she had bequeathed all her money to Katherine. Suddenly Katherine found herself able to afford luxuries she had previously only dreamed of and the decision was made to take a trip to Nice to visit some cousins, a journey which was to involve a ride on the luxurious Blue Train from Calais. By some coincidence Ruby Kettering was also on the train and the two women had a brief conversation. In most cases that was all the involvement that Katherine would ever have had with Ruby, yet matters were to take a far more sinister turn. When Ruby is discovered dead in her carriage shortly afterwards, the cause is clearly murder. The motive is initially believed to be robbery, as her jewels have been stolen, yet when it is discovered that her estranged husband is also on the train he becomes one of the prime suspects for her death, especially as he is in dire financial straits. Moreover, the reunited lover of Ruby, one Comte de la Roche is also a strong candidate for the role of murderer and, of course, there are other possible suspects as well. It is evident that the case may not be as straightforward as initially appears, but fate has ensured that Hercule Poirot will also be travelling on the Blue Train and the case interests him enough to come out of recently imposed retirement. Agreeing to let Katherine Grey help him in the investigation, the detective sets forth to unravel a crime that is harrowing and which reveals the killer to have no scruples.
Published in 1928, "The Mystery of the Blue Train" is an extended version of a previous short story known as "The Plymouth Express". Mindful of the fact that this might lead to people realising early on what had happened, Christie has ensured that a strong element of mystery is retained by changing the character of the murderer. Otherwise, certain basic elements remain the same, the rich heiress and wealthy American magnate, the estranged husband, the jewels and the train journey are all present. Due to the increased length the characters of all three, either directly or spoken of by others, are expanded significantly and, in the case of Derek Kettering, the husband, allows us to see a more rounded view of his personality and this presents him in a more sympathetic light. Moreover, the novel gains greater depth with the inclusion of Katherine Grey and the impact of not only the murder, but also her newly acquired wealth.
Through reading this novel it is apparent that Christie has once again provided the reader with a range of personalities, some of whom remind us of other characters in different works and others who seem to be rather more original. Katherine Grey, for example, should, going by other Christie narratives, be similar to Anne Beddingfeld or Bundle Brent. Caught up in a mystery, it is usual for other main female characters of Christie's to pitch in and subject themselves to daring exploits, risking death or injury on numerous occasions. Katherine, on the other hand, does not do this. She is calm, willing to talk to people and to watch out for things, but the element of frenetic investigation so common in many of the other female personalities within the other stories is missing in this case. It is clear, of course, that she is not the primary detective, that role belongs to Poirot and, as a consequence, this may account for the more subdued role which Katherine plays. And yet, despite this, her position within the story is not reduced and her abilities to reason and work out what is occurring result in her eventually coming to the same conclusions as the identity of the murderer as Poirot does. It is regrettable that Christie should have seen fit to include a pseudo - supernatural element to Katherine's initial suspicions, but it is up to the reader whether we are meant to take that literally, or consider it may have just been her subconscious directing her attention in the right direction.
With reference to the other characters, elements of Linnet Doyle can be seen in Ruby Kettering and it may be that the latter was to be the inspiration to the former. Accustomed to getting her own way, spoilt and never considering her actions might place her in danger, Ruby Kettering commences her appearance in the novel seeming fairly innocous yet is revealed later on to be harder and more egoistical than was initially believed. As Derek Kettering announces to his father in law: "she's tough, you know. Underneath the pink and white white softness of her she's as hard as granite. You have always been known as a hard man, so I have been told, but Ruth is harder than you are. You, at any rate, love one person better than yourself. Ruth never has and never will." Although we may infer that these are the words of a man caught up in a bitter separation, as the novel progresses a deeper element to Derek's personality is revealed, indicating it is likely he was speaking the truth about Ruth.
Derek himself is a complicated person within the novel. Seen as somewhat of a cad to start with, he redeems himself significantly later on due to his words and behaviour. His decision to have nothing more to do with the petulant and openly mercenary Mirelle, for example, is testament to the changes he is undergoing and his realisation that he wants more from a relationship than Mirelle is prepare to offer him. His refusal to be bought off by Rufus Van Aldin, his father in law, is one indication of this, as is his furious reaction at the endeavours of the Comte to blackmail him. He reminds us a little of Lance Fortescue or Ralph Patton, though there are differences inherent. Moreover, he provides a contrast between himself and the Conte de la Roche. That man, in similarity to the same person in "The Plymouth Express", is a person for whom it is difficult to find any liking for. Unscrupulous, self serving and generally thoroughly unpleasant, he imposes a superficial charm on others which does little to deceive the reader.
Rufus Van Aldin is a man who is forced to come to the devastating conclusion that no amount of money can bring him everything he wants. When his daughter is murdered then the only thing he can hope for is retribution for her killer. Powerful due to his personality and his wealth he has been used for years to getting what he wants and using his position to influence and threaten others. When the events of the Blue Train occur the realisation that, in this respect, he is weakened by the acknowledgment that nothing can bring his daughter back.
The psychology of the murder in this novel can be compared to the situation in "Death on the Nile", whereby it is one which has been carefully planned but which can only take place within a very limited time frame. Relying significantly upon luck and timing the murderer takes a huge risk in accomplishing the task they have set themselves. It is apparent, therefore, that they are a person who likes to take risks and who acts swiftly often without thinking of the consequences, or perhaps that they are so assured of their scheme that they can conceive of nothing going wrong with it.
Poirot adapts his usual methods of logic and painstaking deductions alongside his abilities to be aware of the personalities of people in order to uncover the killer in "The Mystery of the Blue Train". As with "Peril at End House" his initial suspicions occur when he questions a statement made to him and begins to look at the person who will eventually be identied as the murderer in a different way. There is some firm evidence to back up his suppositions, assisted by Scotland Yard and the French Police force yet the credit for the discovery must be given to Poirot. Without Hastings by his side he relies instead on the thoughts and words of Katherine and on his questions to his vale, Georges, a man imminently capable of his position yet lacking the imagination that Hasting possessed.
Whilst the majority of this story progresses at a good pace, there are aspects of it which seem, in the case of the murder at least, to be rather irrelevant and relying too much on coincidence. That Katherine should see Derek at the Savoy and then on the Blue Train is a little far fetched, but the idea that he should be well known to the cousins she is staying with in Nice is taking the coincidences a little too far. It allows us to gain another opinion of Derek, but is seems too contrived to be agreeable. Furthermore, the passages involving Lady Tamplin, Chubby and Lennox, could, in the sense of the murder, been happily eradicated from the narrative. However, it is probable that "The Mystery of the Blue Train" is to be seen as two stories. The main one, of course, being the killing of Ruth Kettering and subsequent investigation. The other one is the story of Katherine Grey's life and how how new wealth influences, if it does at all, her life from then on. The comparison between herself and the life which Lady Tamplin is accustomed to living is clearly set out and as the story continues it becomes clear that Katherine will have to realise just what she wants to do with herself.
To conclude, this is one of Christie's works which has the advantage of not only having an interesting plot, but also a good twist to it. Whilst aspects of it will be very familiar to those who have read "The Plymouth Express", nevertheless there is enough originality in it to keep the reader's attention. Failing to score full marks due to the coincidences which seem too contrived, it is, on the whole, a good choice to consider.