Ruth Kettering is an American heiress who receives a set of valuable rubies as a gift from her father. Despite his warnings to keep them somewhere safe, Ruth takes the jewels with her on a trip to Nice. During her journey through France on the famous Blue Train, Ruth is found strangled to death in her compartment – and the case containing the rubies has disappeared. Hercule Poirot, who also happens to be travelling on the same train, promises to help Ruth’s father solve the crime and identify the killer. Suspicion falls first on Ruth’s husband, Derek Kettering, whom she had been about to divorce, and then on the mysterious Comte de la Roche. Is one of them the murderer?
I grabbed The Mystery of the Blue Train from the library shelf without really knowing anything about it. A bit of research now tells me it’s one of Agatha Christie’s less popular Poirot novels and now that I’ve read it I think I can see why. It was written quite early in her career and at a troubled time in her personal life, and apparently the author herself was unhappy with it. The book does have all the elements that should have added up to a classic Christie novel (a rich heiress, a journey on a luxury train, jewel thieves, the South of France – and Hercule Poirot himself, of course) but while I did enjoy it, I still felt there was something missing.
Compared to the other Agatha Christie books I’ve read, which admittedly isn’t all that many, this one was much longer and seemed to take a while to really get started (the actual crime doesn’t take place until about 100 pages into the book). There was a very long wait before Poirot made his first appearance and instead we spend a lot of time being introduced to other characters, which would have been okay had I liked these characters, but I found them a bit stereotypical, from the American millionaire to the French count to the old antiques dealer.
There were also a few sub-plots that I felt didn’t really add much to the story, although I did enjoy the dialogue between Poirot and Katherine Grey, a young woman he meets on the train who becomes involved in the murder investigation. The mystery itself kept me guessing, though I think there were probably enough clues to be able to work out at least part of the solution, if you were paying more attention than I was! The Mystery of the Blue Train was entertaining in places but is probably my least favourite Christie novel so far.