Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie: Part 1

published 1928









"Let me see that evening dress once more," said Katherine- "the pinky mauve one."

Virginie appeared, circling slowly.

"That is the prettiest of all," said Katherine, as she surveyed the exquisite draperies of mauve and grey and blue. "What do you call it?"

"Soupir d'automne; yes, yes, that is truly the dress of Mademoiselle."

What was there in these words that came back to Katherine with a faint feeling of sadness after she had left the dressmaking establishment?

“’Soupir d'automne; that is truly the dress of Mademoiselle.'" Autumn, yes, it was autumn for her. She who had never known spring or summer, and would never know them now. Something she had lost never could be given to her again. These years of servitude in St. Mary Mead - and all the while life passing by.

"I am an idiot," said Katherine. "I am an idiot. What do I want? Why, I was more contented a month ago than I am now."




observations: When I wrote about a fashion makeover scene in Christie’s The Moving Finger last month (as part of poison pen week on the blog) my good blogging friend Vicki/Skiourophile pointed out that was a very enjoyable similar transformation scene in this book – see her excellent review of Blue Train here.

It is the book AC was writing at the time of her marriage breakdown, and the strange incident of her disappearance. She said it was the worst book she ever wrote, and that she never re-read it. But perhaps she should have – it’s not that bad at all, and is going to take two entries to deal with fully. The mean way of putting it is to say that Christie certainly wrote worse books.

It is not perfect. It is long, and after the initial scenes on the train becomes unnecessarily leisurely – it’s not clear why the investigation is spread over such a long time. Unusually for Christie, there is really only one crime going on, not the usual collection of sub-crimes which hide the main one and confuse the investigation and add greatly to the joys of reading. Then there is a bizarre moment when half the cast collect at a tennis match in the south of France – but they might as well be walking down the street in London. Poirot says at one point ‘all eyes are on the tennis’ but that is literally the only mention of the venue or the game – it’s very difficult to place where the characters are and what they are doing. Blue Train perhaps needed one more edit by her, at a time when she couldn’t face it – perhaps she hustled it off to the publisher.

Someone is described as ‘A bounder, and worse than a bounder’ which at least challenges the imagination.

The heroine, Katherine Grey comes from St Mary Mead, some time before Christie assigned Miss Marple to live in the village, and it is firmly placed in Kent.

Clothes play their part in the book – there is some hiding and disguising. I was sorry not to be able to find a picture to illustrate Mirelle: ‘wrapped in a sand-coloured velvet wrap trimmed with leopard skin.’ And there is a lovely vignette of an old lady complaining about her maid ‘with skirts up to her knees and silk stockings that ladder when you look at them, and the most ridiculous shoes that ever I set eyes on…’ Like this, perhaps, a photo used for Javier Marias’s book All Souls:






More on the train aspects, and the TV version of the book, in another entry soon.

More train books: Strangers on a Train, which went from Highsmith to Hitchcock, and children’s classic The Railway Children.

The top picture, from the NYPL, is of a 1920s gown actually called Hiver Approche (winter approaches) so it seems fair enough for Soupir d’Automne (autumn sigh).

There are many, many entries on Agatha Christie all over the blog: click on the label below.

22 comments:

  1. I don't think I'll be adding this to the ranks of my unread Agatha's....4 or 5 at last count. You can read my share for me please.

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    1. This is not one for a rookie perhaps - it's a good enough book but wouldn't convince you Dame Agatha was anything special. But you should get on with the ones you have in the pile...

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  2. Moira - I know what you mean about Christie's view of this novel, but like you, I didn't think it was her worst. I like Katherine Grey's personality, and I like Lenox Tamplin very much. The murder itself isn't badly conceived at all either. Oh, and I rather like the way Poirot reassures Lenox Trust the train..... Something compassionate about that.

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    1. Yes! You have picked out absolutely all the best things about it, and it is nice to see Poirot at his kindest. Christie was going through a very bad time herself, but the book is full of a generous spirit, I feel.

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  3. Lenox. I keep thinking Lettice, but that's a different Christie, isn't it? Thank you for the lovely compliment re my post. I could read these scenes day in day out and never tire of the 'mousy librarian throwing off her specs'-motif. Also how good is it when the downtrodden inherit enough money to buy couture? Yah!

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    1. Yes, Lenox is an excellent name isn't it. Lettice should be nice but just too much like the salad. Murder at the Vicarage, isn't she? Yes exactly, even though reading too many scenes like this make you think it might just happen to you.

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  4. Moira, I have not read this book but for some reason I have always confused it with ORIENT EXPRESS. I'm no expert on Christie's work and I have generally liked the books I have read so far. She's not as predictable as some authors are.

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    1. That's very reasonable Prashant! Quite similar setups... And both well worth reading in their different ways.

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  5. Agree, Vicki! I love Blue Train (and anyone who hasn't read it - do), but get confused by the plot. Who is that rat-like creature from the Russian embassy? What did the Papopoulos family get up to? Who's got the ruby?

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    1. Yes, Lucy, I don't know if Agatha knew exactly what was going on with the ruby, but no-one else does. And having just read it, I have no idea what the role of Mirelle was, apart from wearing the sand-and-leopard wrap: goody? Baddy? Was she looking to buy, sell, steal or receive the ruby? No idea.

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  6. Moira, Agatha Christie is said to have finished this book during her visit to the Canary Islands. See my post at http://jiescribano.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/following-agathas-steps-canary-islands-february-1927/

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    1. Thank you Jose Ignacio: I didn't know that and I found your blogpost fascinating. You mention her assistant Carlotta, who accompanied her on the trip - she is one of the dedicatees of Mystery of the Blue Train. I think the other one, Peter, is her dog of the time...

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  7. Lovely post. I have been wanting to read more train-related mysteries. I liked this one and I read it almost exactly a year ago today (10/3/2013). I want to read Strangers on a Train.

    I read The Sleeping-Car Murders by Sebastien Japrisot a couple of years ago. It was interesting, although it took me awhile to adjust to the writing, the style. Most of the book is off the train but it starts there. I don't remember specifically about clothing, but I bet there were mentions.

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    1. I am a sucker for train books Tracy, and I love travelling in them. I have been trying not to fly, and for the past few years I have had great fun getting to as many European destinations as possible by train. Reading a train book makes it even better. I read the Japrisot and was lukewarm about it, despite his having written one of my favourite books, A Very Long Engagement.

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    2. I liked The Sleeping-Car Murders better than Long Engagement. I have been looking for The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
      for years, with no luck. But I did find another of his books at the book sale and I cannot remember the title right now.

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    3. I think I read one by him called something like Deadly Summer, but didn't like it much either....

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  8. Look forward to the review of TV version (can't say I'm a fan of either iteration frankly) - you just have to enter it for the Book to Movie Challenge now Moira :)

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    1. Coming Saturday - though very lightweight and trivial comments!

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  9. Traveling by train to many destinations in Europe ... how lucky to be able to do that. That is a dream.

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    1. I know, I'm not going to pretend, I am very lucky. I love it, it has been one of the pleasures of my later years to travel so much by train.

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  10. This particular scene is one of my favourite clothes-in-books scenes, probably in part because it's so tied to the character and her feelings in the book; it's not a makeover in the usual sense.

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    1. Yes, I totally agree with you. I think it's because no-one is doing it for her: she has agency, as theorists would say... She hasn't got a man telling her what to do, it's her own freedom she is celebrating, not trying to look nice for someone else.

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