Poirot boards Le Train Bleu, bound for the French Riviera. So does Katherine Grey, who is having her first winter out of England, after having inherited a huge sum in a most romantic manner. While on board she meets Ruth Kettering, an American heiress bailing from a marriage to meet her lover. The next morning, though, Ruth is found dead in her compartment, a victim of strangulation. The theft of her priceless rubies, and rumors of a strange man loitering near her compartment, send Poirot on a quest to find her murderer.
The novel's plot is based on the 1923 Poirot short story The Plymouth Express (much 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. This, however, Ms. Anne Hart, in her 'biography' of Miss Marple, assures us, is not the same.. It also features the first appearance of the minor reoccurring character of Mr Goby who would later appear in both After the Funeral and Third Girl.
The Times Literary Supplement gave a more positive reaction to the book than Christie herself in its issue of May 3, 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 August 12, 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." The anonymous reviewer failed to comment on any merits of the story.
Robert Barnard: "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'.
The novel was televised in 2005 as a special episode of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot, and was aired by ITV on December 11 starring David Suchet as Poirot, Roger Lloyd Pack as Inspector Caux and Elliott Gould as Rufus Van Aldin.
The television film includes several changes from the original novel. In the film, Ruth's lover is traveling on the train with her, and they are both fleeing her husband. Ruth becomes friends with Katherine Grey. They switch train compartments, and when Ruth is bludgeoned to death, making her features unrecognizable, Poirot speculates that the intended victim may have been Katherine. Rufus, Ruth's father, has a wife in the film, who became insane after the birth of Ruth, 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 visits Rufus' wife, who mistakes the passenger for her daughter Ruth. At the end of the film, the murderer dies, instead of just being arrested by the French police as in the novel.
The Mystery of the Blue Train was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on December 3, 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.
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 had its effect on her in the middle 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, February 1 to Thursday, March 15, 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 missed. 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 where 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 April 5, the breakdown of her marriage to Archibald Christie and her famous ten-day disappearance in the December of that year. These were events which disturbed her for the remainder of her life and Christie found that people she expected to be allies in her time of need turned away from her. One person who didn't was Charlotte Fisher (1901? - 1976) who had been employed by Christie as a secretary to her and governess to her daughter Rosalind in 1924. When the events of 1926 were starting to recede, Christie states that she "had to take stock of my friends". She and Fisher (whom Christie referred to 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 Carlo 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 and complicated and intricate crime when the Blue Train steams in Nice the following morning and it is discovered that murder has been done."
Television: Fussy Suchet Commits the Perfect Crime; BEST OF THE WEEK: THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN TODAY, 9PM, ITV1
Jan 01, 2006; Byline: BY STEVE HENDRY David Suchet holds his hands up right away to make his confession - he is an absolute pain in the neck...