Katherine Grey has come into an unexpected inheritance and has decided to travel, to see the world. Unfortunately, she chooses Le Train Bleu, a train heading for the French Riviera. Unfortunate because also on the train is Ruth Kettering, an American heiress, in possession of a ridiculously expensive ruby necklace, as well as various personnel who have an interest in Ruth, the necklace, or both. The next morning on the train, Ruth is found, strangled and disfigured, and the necklace, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, has vanished.
Katherine finds herself drawn into the investigation, and the affairs of Ruth’s immediate circle, but luckily a fellow passenger has taken an interest in both the case and her. A retired Belgian gentleman by the name of Hercule Poirot.
The Poirot Countup continues with this, the sixth Poirot book. It’s the book that Christie wrote during the most turbulent time of her life, and it shows, as this is probably the weakest novel to date to feature Poirot. Despite this being based on the short story “The Plymouth Express”, there are long passages where this feels like a Katherine Grey story. The story, for the first time in one of the novels, seems more interested in her adventures – I suppose as she is filling in for Hastings, that is to be expected, but it feels more like a distraction.
Poirot is still retired at this point, travelling with his valet Georges in his first appearance, but doesn’t hesitate to get involved in investigating the mystery. He’s especially arrogant here, referring to himself as “probably the best detective in the world” and at one point thumps himself on the chest to emphasise a point. He also (admittedly while playing a part) is described as crying out “gaily”, which sounds a bit over-the-top for him.
Plotwise, it’s a reasonable mystery, but it does spend so long staring at certain suspects that there aren’t that many characters left to be picked from. There is something unsatisfying about the solution, although I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is. It is fairly clued, just about, but it does still feel like it comes a bit out of nowhere. It’s worth noting that after this one, Christie waited four years before bringing Poirot back, possibly her first flirtation with tiring of her sleuth, or possibly wanting to distance herself from this book, which she wasn’t fond of. I enjoyed reading it for the first time a few years ago, but this time round, the novelty had worn off.
Ranking Poirot (so far):
- The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd
- The Mysterious Affair At Styles
- The Murder On The Links
- Poirot Investigates
- The Mystery Of The Blue Train
- The Big Four
I love the cover image which bears no relation to the contents whatsoever.
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I just reread this one last month and the thing that really struck me this time around were the vaguely supernatural nods to things like fate, and even a reference to the ghost of Ruth trying to communicate with Katherine Grey. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop seeing it. This supernatural element is unusual for a Christie novel, although it shows up in some of the short stories.
I really like Katherine, though, and her relationship with Poirot is the beginning of a number of wonderful Poirot/young woman partnerings that are one of my favorite things about these mysteries. It’s so delightfully platonic and not at all skeevy.
Great reeading this