Katherine Grey has recently inherited from her late employer, and with her new found freedom decides to leave the village of St Mary Mead and take the luxurious Blue Train to the South of France. Her lunching companion of the previous day is found dead on arrival at Nice and her priceless necklace has been stolen. Enter her fellow traveller, now a man of leisure, Hercule Poirot.
Which was the primary crime – the murder or the theft? Why was her face disfigured after death? Who is the mysterious Marquis and how is he involved?
The novel is an expanded version of the short story “The Plymoth Express” (collected in “Poirot’s Early Cases”) and Christie found it hard to write due to the pressures in her personal life, and consequently hated it.
A number of the characters range from the unsympathetic to the downright unpleasant, but all have something about them. Poirot is a bit like he was in “The Big Four”; using various contacts to spin the web that eventually ensnares the killer.
Recurring character development
All through his life he has observed one thing – “What one wants, one gets!”
Has met the Commissary in charge of the case, M. Caux, once before at the Sûreté.
Is still retired and is enjoying the world, and claims that he would not have responded to a police summons if had been staying at Nice and has only involved himself in the case because he was on the train.
Is by his own admission “probably the greatest detective in the world”.
Seventeen years ago he recovered an item that had been left by a Prominent Person for the antique dealer, M. Papopoulos.
Is not interested in the fate of the stolen jewels, only in identifying the murderer.
Has a secret code for communicating with Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard.
Describes himself as having been a cat, watching the mousehole; a dog following the scent; and a squirrel storing away nuts.
Claims to have been shot in the left shoulder during his police service.
Poirot’s valet whom he refers to with the French “Georges”.
Is “an intensely English, rather wooden-faced individual.”
Previously worked for Lord Edward Frampton but decided to work for Poirot after reading in “Society Snippets” that he had been received at Buckingham Palace by King George V.
Signs of the Times
The crime is committed on 14th/15th February 1928 – although at one point, in two different editions, January is quoted as the month of the murder. No mention is made of Valentine’s Day.
The Calais-Mediterranée was a luxury night express train which operated from 1886 to 2003. It was known as Le Train Bleu/The Blue Train because of its dark blue sleeping cars.
Whilst Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) was a real film actress, “Palm Trees in Egypt”, mentioned by Lady Tamblin, is not a real film.
References to previous works
Katherine Grey is from St Mary Mead, home to Miss Marple, who first appeared in a series of short stories in 1927/28, which formed the first part of “The Thirteen Problems”. As this wasn’t published until 1932, I won’t be reviewing it until later in the year.
Joseph Aarons, the theatrical agent who assisted Poirot in “The Murder on the Links” and “The Big Four”, is again of assistance.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “How – Death by strangulation”.