Monday, November 10, 2008

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

The Mystery of the Blue Train is the eighth crime novel written by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. It is an unusual book for both Christie's writing style and personal connection.

For starters, the detective (Hercule Poirot) doesn't appear until ten chapters into the story. The book opens with several chapters of what appear to be unconnected people and events such as the purchase of "The Heart of Fire" (an extremely valuable set of rubies originating from the crown jewels of Russia), the unraveling marriage of Ruth and Derek Kettering, and Katherine Grey's sudden inheritance, which allows her to travel abroad after years of near solitude while caring for an elderly lady. It is only when several of these characters end up on the same train (the Blue Train) that these apparent lose ends begin to connect and the story really "leaves the station." Aboard the train Ruth is found brutally murdered and "The Heart of Fire" has been stolen. Enter Hercule Poirot sans Hastings.

Agatha Christie began writing The Mystery of the Blue Train during a difficult and very painful time in her life. Not only was she dealing with the death of her mother, but Christie had also discovered her husband of 12 years was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Distraught and at a breaking point, Christie dropped her work and drove off into the night. Her whereabouts and welfare remained a mystery for nearly two weeks. At last, she was found many miles from home, using an assumed name, and apparently suffering from amnesia.

But, in my opinion, this mysterious disappearance did little to no damage on Christie's writing ability. Upon returning home Christie resumed writing The Mystery of the Blue Train and it was published in 1928, the same year her marriage ended. Unfortunately for the rest of her life (perhaps because of it's connection to a very painful time in her life), Christie considered it her worst book. It was also around this time that she wrote two novels -- the last books about Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot -- and had them locked in a safe in case of any future "rainy day" when she would be unable to write and in need of money.

Critics and readers felt otherwise about The Mystery of the Blue Train. The book sold well and was declared a fast paced read with a unique and interesting setting and cast of characters. The plot's twists and turns keep the reader guessing up to the end, which is a pleasure not a problem for most Agatha Christie fans. I have to agree with the critics, this was a fun and fast paced read. If this is the "worst" of Christie then I know I am in for a lot of great reads. (Christie wrote 80 crime novels and I've less than a dozen under my belt.) The Mystery of the Blue Train wasn't a favorite, but it was a good read. I was able to solve one piece of the puzzle, which is a happy accomplishment.

As always, I borrowed my copy from the library, rather than purchasing a copy. The book was 317 pages and a fast read, only taking me two days of fairly steady reading to finish. After reading Bleak House (three times the length of TMBT), this one felt like a very light read and one I would definitely recommend to the mystery lover. On a scale of 1-5 (1 being horrible and 5 being excellent) I would rate TMBT in the middle at a 3 or 3.5.

As a side note, I did notice the book contained a plethora of French words and phrases. I have never studied French, but just from my reading of classics and the few Agatha Christie novels, I have apparently picked up a small understanding, which I find entertaining.


Carrie said...

That's awesome. I love the way your reviews are becoming more and more informative. Yet again I learned things I never knew before.

Thanks for the great review!

Beth F said...

Terrific review. I love the background information.