The Mystery of the Blue Train – Agatha Christie

Book Cover: The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Chrisite

The Mystery of the Blue Train
Agatha Christie
England, 1928

Continuing my way through the Agatha Christie’s, The Mystery of the Blue Train is up next. It is another in the series of Poirot stories, although this time without one of his personal narrators. Instead, each chapter hops between characters as we watch the mystery slowly unfold. A priceless and much coveted ruby necklace is sold to American millionaire, Rufus Van Aldin, who intends it as a gift for his headstrong daughter, Ruth Kettering. She is presently estranged from her husband, the philandering Derek. While she married him for his future title, he married her for money, and will be ruined–and lose his mistress, dancer Mirelle, as well–if Ruth follows through with her intended divorce. Of course Ruth is not blameless; she is intending to rendezvous in the Riviera with her French lover, the Comte de la Roche, a man Van Aldin knows to be a con artist. Somehow into this mix is added the newly wealthy Katherine Grey, also journeying to the Riviera for her first taste of wealthy society. But before anyone arrives at their destination, there is a murder on the Blue Train–and with such a mix of motives, it is a perfect little exercise for detective Hercule Poirot, conveniently on the train as well.

Although an enjoyable trip–reading in late February of what proved to be a cold, snowy winter, I quite enjoyed the virtual visit to the Riviera–it doesn’t strike me as one of the stronger Christie’s. Perhaps this is just personal preference, but I feel Christie is not at her best when swapping points-of-view constantly. Better the tighter confines of a single narrow viewpoint. Despite plenty of clues and misdirection, Blue Train also contains one of my personal pet peeves–the detective has knowledge related to the crime that the reader cannot possibly have. Although an improvement on The Big Four, I look forward to the better Christie’s I know are coming.

The Mystery of the Blue Train is my Mystery/Detective/Crime classic for Back to the Classics 2022.

The Big Four – Agatha Christie

Book Cover: The Big Fout by Agatha Christie

The Big Four
Agatha Christie
England, 1927

After the cleverness of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, its successor, The Big Four comes as a bit of a surprise. No small town or manor house mystery novel, it is presents a tale of international intrigue, presenting Hercule Poirot’s attempts to bring down a major crime syndicate, represented by devious criminals from the US, France, China, and England who always seem to be just ahead of the famous Belgian detective. Hastings makes a return to narration, and we find ourselves chasing along with the pair as they attempt to head off “the Big Four’s” ever-masterful plots. It is almost a Sherlock-vs-Moriarty adventuring.

The premise appears promising; however, I unfortunately found it the least compelling of Christie’s mysteries to this point. It seemed to me it was more a series of mediocre short stories in search of a unifying plot. Only after finishing did I learn that the chapters actually did start out as short stories, and the novel was cobbled together at a low point in her personal life when writing was difficult. A bit of a disappointment, really.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Book cover: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie
England, 1926

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Agatha Christie’s most well known and well-regarded mysteries, and on my first reading, my impression is rightly so.

It is a Poirot novel, but instead of faithful Hastings as the narrator–apparently he is happily married and living in Argentina–we are treated to the narration of Dr. James Sheppard, the doctor to the small town of King’s Abbot, where everyone knows everything and gossip is the local currency–one Dr. Sheppard’s sister specializes in. Not only are we treated to Dr. Sheppard’s narration, for who else to be called immediately to the scene after a murder than a doctor (and the police, of course), but to his sister’s sometimes insightful, sometimes wishful observations.

Not long after the murder occurs, the victim’s niece, eager to clear her fiancé of suspicion, hires M. Hercule Poirot, recently retired and living next door to the Sheppards. How fortuitous for Caroline! But more to the point, how fortuitous for the reader, for Flora Ackroyd appeals to Dr. Sheppard to help her in approaching the famous detective, and soon we have a Sheppard-Poirot pairing as they set off to investigate.

It is a mystery full of secrets and motives: money, love, blackmail, drugs. And they are doled out perfectly, allowing the reader to start to see the specifics of who is up to what, while at the same time obscuring the larger picture. Christie ensures that we aren’t able to see the forest, so many trees are in the way. And yet, once the final pages have been turned and the last revelations have been made–in typical Hercule Poirot dramatic fashion (though to be fair, I don’t believe Dr. Sheppard accused Poirot of being dramatic nearly the way Hastings so often does!)–the reader doesn’t feel cheated. Everything is there, or at least nearly so, if you can sift through to see it. Thoroughly satisfying.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

Cover: The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys
Agatha Christie
England, 1925

When I picked up The Secret of Chimneys this summer it turned out to be one of those “perfect books for the time” sort of events. I’d been reading some heavier books that required a good deal more brain power than a Christie novel does, and it was a breath of fresh air to pick up a mystery, especially one with such charming young characters.

We first meet Anthony Cade, working as a guide for British tourists in southern Africa. A chance meeting with a friend provides him with an opportunity for easier cash: get a manuscript to the publishers in London and return some letters to the lady who wrote them. Neither seems the sort of task likely to present difficulties, but Anthony is beset with adventures almost the moment he arrives in England. And when Virginia Revel turns out not to have written the letters, we discover that we are only at the beginning of a multi-layered intrigue involving a French crook, oil rights, a lost diamond, a missing prince, and, of course, an old country-house known as Chimneys, the scene of crimes both past and present.

Anthony and Virginia are both wonderfully fun characters, as they embark on their own investigations, independent of the professionals on the scene, Inspector Battle and M Lemoine of the Sûreté. And although amateurs, they are not without the ability to detect, if at times their lines of investigation prove unprofitable. Inspector Battle was an interesting character to me. He clearly has a handle on what’s going on, but doesn’t have as much “stage presence” as I would have expected from an “Inspector Battle” novel. He will appear in a number of Christie’s later mysteries and I look forward to seeing how he is presented in these.

As a mystery, I’m not sure it’s one of her stronger ones: although there are many layers and lines of inquiry, I worked out many of the answers without effort, and thought perhaps she left too many clues on the page (which I suppose is a better problem than not enough!). Or perhaps I’m just getting used to her methods and it’s easier to see where she’s going? Nevertheless, a delightful romp.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

The Man in the Brown Suit
Agatha Christie
England, 1924

What a wonderful romp! Christie’s fifth outing (and fourth novel) takes us on a multi-continent adventure in search of the eponymous “Man in the Brown Suit” and the answer to the mystery of the death of an unidentified woman in a home owned by the absent Sir Eustace Pedler. After a scene setting prologue, introducing us third-hand to the character of the anonymous “Colonel,” a master criminal who has managed to never get his hands dirty, we start ordinarily enough in post-Great War England, with  young heroine Anne Beddingfield, recently orphaned, rather poor, and in search of a great adventure.  With nothing to lose, she takes the first opportunity to move to London, sure that it is a city where adventure awaits. Anne is not wrong. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a complex web of intrigue stretching from England to South Africa and Rhodesia, as she endeavors not only to track down the brown-suited man, but also to unravel the mystery of the murdered woman, and discover the hidden secrets of her fellow travelers.

Anne is a delight as a character, with her youthful enthusiasm and intelligence. And the remaining cast of characters are fascinating as well: Mrs. Blair, a wealthy but bored socialite; the silent, stern Colonel Race, who may or may not be British Intelligence; Sir Eustice Pedler, a wealthy MP who loves nothing more than comfort; the sinister-looking Guy Pagett, secretary to Sir Eustice; Harry Rayborn, a mysterious man also in the employ of Sir Eustace; and Reverend Edward Chichester, who may not quite be what he seems.

Much as with The Secret Adversary, The Man in the Brown Suit is more thriller than mystery, despite the murder in the early chapters. Rather, it is the murder that triggers subsequent events, and the reader is carried along with our young heroine, against a background of diamond thieves, revolution, and dynamic scenery. As far as I can discover, it has only had one film adaptation, a made-for-TV movie that doesn’t appear to have been well-reviewed, but with the fast-pace and variety of scenery, I can imagine it as an excellent big-screen entertainment. As much as I enjoy the mysteries of Hercule Poirot, The Man in the Brown Suit is so far my favorite of the Christies in my chronological set of reads.