Notes On The Mystery Of The Blue Train

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication: 1928

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

On the Blue Train Ruth Kettering travels with an extremely precious stone in her jewellery bag. Heading for the French Riviera, she has planned a secret rendezvous with an old flame, of whom her father, the American millionaire, despises.

In another compartment it is the first journey abroad for Katherine Grey whilst next to hers a small man with an egg-shaped head and magnificent moustache is a regular customer.

Derek Kettering is with his mistress, Mirelle. Only when the train is approaching Paris does he realise that his estranged wife is also on the same train. Late at night he then slips into Ruth’s compartment.

The next morning, no sooner has Grey got off the train than she is called as a witness to Mrs. Kettering’s murder. What is more, she recognises Derek as the man she saw going into Ruth’s compartment on the night of the murder.

As Poirot sets off to investigate the case, his attention is drawn to the statement made by the deceased’s maid whom accompanied her on the journey. To the police she has described a mysterious man who stood on the platform outside the train when it had stopped in Garde du Lyon. Was it Derek that the maid saw? Or, was he a different man -the killer?

Meanwhile, Ruth’s jewellery bag has gone missing, so does the red ruby. Later when Mirelle is spotted wearing it and Derek benefits from Ruth’s death, his arrest becomes inevitable.

Only Poirot who believes on his innocence. Yet he has to know first the owner of a  cigarette case found in the crime scene with a “K “initial on it. Can he do it?

The French Riviera; a popular destination or winter getaway for English

 

Highlights:

Concerning the choice of the crime scene, the book can be perceived as the earlier version of The Murder In The Orient Express (1934) and its subsequent success of Death In The Clouds (1936).

Now about the plot. Much as it is a marvellous one, I am not sure in what direction Christie’s focus  actually is. Is it about a jewel thief and his conflict of interest, ie. his falling for a woman? Is it an extremely rich father whose “little surprise” for his only daughter worth half a million dollars? Or perhaps is it about a woman seeing the world for the first time and then happened to be “in the thick of it” – the recurring theme for Christie’s heroines?

The answer can be either and you might suggest another option, too. Surely it does not matter as in a fiction there should be a room of imagination for the readers and Christie is quite good about it. Yet, I am not sure what went on in Christie’s mind having decided to give her piece of mind about divorce and having a second chance for women. It was a brave move on her part, for it might have been still a taboo to talk about divorce, particularly if it was the bitter one as hers. In the story Ruth Kettering goes to Nice for her annual winter getaway while her millionaire father Rufus Van Aldin has laid a divorce proposal for her good-for-nothing husband Derek Kettering after ten years of their marriage. Does the number ring a bell to you, readers?

It is the layering of issues and their underneath problems that are most impressive about the plot. For it speaks volumes of Christie’s skill as a story teller.  The protagonist, Katherine Grey, is mature and sensible. It is interesting that she is older than her predecessors Anne Beddingfield or Bundle (Seven Dials Mystery). In fact, her age is similar to Christie’s at that time. Be that as it may, our heroine’s intention of turning a new leaf as a ‘free woman’ after ten years being a companion to a wealthy woman (of whom then leaving all her money to the other) is met with a challenge: she falls in love with the main suspect of Ruth Kettering’s killing.

What interests me is  Christie’s personification of Grey, who represents a new generation of women in England  after the Great War. More women became more independent and a number of them broke the mould by going to work and had their own money. A trip to a couture dressmaker,  splashing money to stay in Savoy and a ticket by a luxurious train highlighted are a few examples of  the changing attitude of women in the late twenties.

In the midst of it are three women at the crossroads of their life. Ruth Kettering is torn between her fear to a loving father and her desire to be with a man she used to love. Katherine Grey must choose between Major Knighton and Derek Kettering. Mirelle ponders over whether to continue with the penniless Derek.

James D’Arcy stars as Derek Kettering in 2005’s adaptation into a TV series

To some extent I feel that the book has more romance than murder. Although at the same time I am amazed to have realised the effect of a person’s demise to others –regardless the circumstances. Take the example of Rufus Van Aldin, who finds out about his late daughter’s unknown will to her husband and her rebellious plan of meeting the man Van Aldin has disagreed – Armand Comte de la Roche. He is also a suspect and he has a motive to want Ruth die, for he is the one who persuaded her to bring the red ruby on the train.

As it is often the case in Christie’s books, the murderer remains in the shadow. With Christie, it is sometimes hard to weigh up a character although the information about them is seemingly sufficient. Is a thief a killer? Is the killing driven by a spur-of-the-moment rage or a result of a meticulous plan? Is a womaniser different from a woman killer?

At the end of the day, consider it a plus to guess the murderer correctly but an advantage to have something to think about the “ageless” and “timeless” factors of human behaviour. The occurrences in Christie’s days still ring true nowadays in 21st century.

 

The Twists:

-Derek Kettering refuses Rufus Van Aldin’s divorce proposal

– Ruth has made an unknown will to her father in which she would leave all her money to her husband

– Ruth Kettering’s maid, Ada Mason, is to stay in Paris and wait for her mistress’s instruction

-Ada Mason has worked for over two months before the murder occurs; just as Major Knighton to Rufus Van Aldin as his secretary

-Ruth Kettering takes the ‘Heart of Fire’ with her on the Blue Train

Cast of Characters:

Ada Mason (Ruth Kettering’s maid)

Armand the Comte de la Roche

Monsieur Carrege (of French police)

Commissary Caux (of French police)

Charles Evans (a.k.a. Chubby, Lady Rosalie’s younger husband)

Hon. Derek Kettering (Van Aldin’s son-in-law, Helen’s husband)

Mr. Goby (Rufus’s informant)

Mr. and Mrs. Harrison (Katherine’s good friends in the village)

Hercule Poirot

Joseph Aarons (Poirot’s acquaintance, an expert in people with “dramatic profession”)

Katherine Grey (an ex-companion to Mrs. Harfield, to whom the other’s wealth is left in her will)

Major Knighton (Van Aldin’s secretary)

Lenox Tamplin (Lady Rosalie’s daughter)

Mirelle (a Parisian dancer, Derek’s lover)

M. Papolous (the jewellery dealer, an acquaintance of Poirot’s)

Lady Rosalie Tamplin (Lenox’s mother, a cousin of Katherine’s; with whom she stays in her villa)

Pierre Michel (the train’s attendant)

Rufus Van Aldin (the American millionaire, Ruth’s father)

Ruth Kettering (Van Aldin’s only daughter, Derek’s wife)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Joseph Aarons

He is one of Poirot’s valuable informants that will be at the sleuth’s service when required. Just as Mr. Goby, the Jew is able to provide minute details about a person in question and their movement.

I would like to quote his remark about Aarons: ‘I said to myself, “If you want to know anything about the dramatic profession there is one person who knows all that is to be known and that is my old friend, Mr. Joseph Aarons.’

A good judge of character, Aarons is amiable and courteous. From him readers know something else about Mirelle – not her bad temper, I assure you. Significant the fact may seem that Poirot has to rearrange his facts about the case once more.

It is intriguing that he appears nearly in the end and he is introduced after the background check of another passenger in the Blue Train; the owner of the cigarette case with a “K” initial. Moreover, at a point when the jewel thief has achieved his clever plan.

What’s the point, you may ask? Actually, Aarons is the best twist Christie can offer while the murderer is still at large.

 

Clues:

Hercule Poirot to Katherine Grey:

‘I have asked you a question about major Knighton, now I will ask you another. Do you like Mr. Derek Kettering?’

‘I hardly know him,’ said Katherine.

‘That is not an answer, that.’

‘I think it is.’

He looked at her, struck by something in her tone. Then he nodded his head gravely and slowly.

‘Perhaps you are right, Mademoiselle. See you, I who speak to you have seen much of the world, and I know that there are two things which are true. A good man may be ruined by his love for a bad woman – but the other way holds good also. A bad man may equally be ruined by his love for a good woman.’

Katherine looked up sharply. ‘When you say ruined…’

‘I mean from his point of view. One must be whole-hearted in crime as in everything else.’

‘You are trying to warn me,’said Katherine in a low voice. ‘Against whom?’

Pierre Michel to Poirot and M. Caux:

‘It was after we had left the Gare du Lyon I came along to make the beds, thinking that Madame [Ruth Kettering] would be at dinner, but she had a dinner-basket in her compartment. She said to me that she had been obliged to leave her maid behind in Paris, so that I only need make up one berth. She took her dinner basket into the adjoining compartment, and sat there while I made up the bed; then she told me that she did not wish to be wakened early in the morning, that she liked to sleep on…’

Rufus Van Aldin and Ruth Kettering:

‘I want to tell you one thing, Dad;  you are wrong about Armand – the Comte de la Roche, I mean. Oh, I know there were several regrettable incidents in his youth – he has told me about them; but- well, he has cared for me always. It broke his heart when you parted us in Paris, and now –‘

She was interrupted by the snort of indignation her father gave.

‘So you fell for that stuff, did you? You, a daughter of mine! My God!’ He threw up his hands. ‘That women can be such darned fools!’

Ruth Kettering to Katherine Grey:

‘I don’t know – I don’t know [meeting Armand Comte de la Roche]. Ever since I left Victoria I had a horrible feeling of something – something that I can’t escape.’

She clutched convulsively at Katherine’s hand.

‘You must think I am mad talking to you like this, but I tell you I know something horrible is going to happen.’

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