Agatha Christie didn’t enjoy writing The Mystery of the Blue Train (first published in 1928). In her autobiography she wrote that it had not been easy writing it and that she had always “hated” it:
To begin with I had no joy in writing, no élan. I had worked out the plot – a conventional plot, partly adapted from one of my other stories. I knew, as one might say, where I was going, but I could not see the scene in my mind’s eye, and the people would not come alive. I was driven on by the desire, indeed the necessity, to write another book and make some money.
That was the moment when I changed from being an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well. (pages 368-9)
As she was writing this book at the time of her disappearance and divorce from her first husband, Archibald Christie it’s hardly surprising. It may not be her best book, but it’s still a good read. Ruth Kettering, the daughter of millionaire Rufus Van Aldin, is married to Derek, against her father’s advice. Agatha’s views on divorce are clear when Van Aldin tells Ruth she should divorce Derek, who he thinks is no good, rotten through and through and had only married her for her money, saying:
Have you got the grit to admit to all the world that you’ve made a mistake. There’s only one way out of this mess, Ruthie. Cut your losses and start afresh. (page 20)
Later Ruth is found strangled in her compartment in the Paris-Nice train, known as the train bleu, on its arrival in Nice and the fabulous ruby, the Heart of Fire that Van Aldin had given her, has been stolen. Fortunately Hercule Poirot is also travelling on the train and he of course unravels the mystery. There are a number of suspects ranging from Derek and his mistress, the dancer Mirelle, who had both the motive and the opportunity, to Ruth’s lover, the Comte de la Roche, suspected of stealing the jewels.
I liked the reflections on detective novels through a conversation Poirot has with another passenger on the train, Katherine Grey, from St Mary Mead who has inherited money from her employer. She is reading a roman policier when they meet at dinner and Poirot comments that they always sell well. She replies that may be because they give ‘the illusion of living an exciting life’ and that ‘nothing of that kind ever happens to me.‘ From then on however, she is drawn into the mystery along with Poirot, that
small man, distinctly foreign in appearance, with a rigidly waxed moustache and an egg-shaped head which he carried rather on one side. (page 80)
It may be that Poirot is a bit of a caricature in this book, but the characters are in the main believable and the book certainly has a 1920s feel to it.