Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie: Part 2

published 1928









Mrs. Kettering started violently. Her nerves were not completely under control this morning. Very perfectly dressed in a long mink coat and a little hat of Chinese lacquer red, she had been walking along the crowded platform of Victoria deep in thought, and her father's sudden appearance and hearty greeting had an unlooked-for effect upon her.

"Why, Ruth, how you jumped!"

"I didn't expect to see you, I suppose, Dad. You said good-bye to me last night and said you had a conference this morning."…


A thin maid is clutching a big scarlet morocco case with the initials RVK on it.




Extra credit: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

[For comparison purposes, this is the departure of Linda for Spain, getting the train ten years later]

I went to see her off at Victoria, she was looking intensely English in her long blond mink coat, the Tatler under her arm, and Lord Merlin’s morocco dressing-case, with a canvas cover, in her hand.





observations: I mentioned in the first entry on this book that Vicki/Skiourophile had written an excellent review of the book, and I like this firm comment from it:

I recommend it for the settings and a pretty clever plot (I always give up thinking when anyone mentions train timetables as I know I'll never figure it out) and for featuring my favourite cliché of all, the dowdy companion who comes into money and is transformed by a good dressmaker.
--the transformation we looked at in the previous entry, and I know just what Vicki means about the trains. Christie isn’t usually prone to this (bridge bidding is another matter) but I said last time that I think the book could have done with another edit, and this – combined with the changes in transport since 1928 – would make it very hard for a modern person to work out the train stuff. For instance, Ruth is not getting on the actual, titular, Blue Train above, as you might think – she has to get to Dover and cross to Calais before she can do that. Then there is the business of the train circling Paris, and then calling elsewhere. I don’t think anyone could really work out what opportunities anyone might have for joining or leaving the train. (And I speak as someone who has travelled widely in Europe in recent years, using trains and sleeper cars, and is constantly reminded of this book, and of course Murder on the Orient Express, whenever I do so.) There are also some questions to be asked of the pathologist who examined the body…

I still do love all the details of the travel - the tickets, and the porter, and the maid sitting elsewhere, and leaving your compartment so the bed can be made up. Ruth has her dinner handed to her in a basket, through the train window surprisingly (having chosen not to go to the posh dining car), and later, people’s belongings are handed out through the window when the train arrives.

The TV version of this book (which does add other plotlines) is actually not bad at all, so long as you draw a veil over the unspeakable horror of trying to give Poirot a love interest. A lot of it was shot on location in an authentic villa in Menton, and it looks fabulous – there is also a funny story of an actress signing on cheerfully for this great job filming in the South of France, and then paging through the script and finding to her horror that her character dies and never gets there… 


The picture is Woman in Coat and Hat at train station, from a 1920s fashion magazine, from the NYPL. 



Above is a fashionable woman at a railway station some years later - from this entry earlier this year for a crime book set at a fashion magazine.

There are several entries on The Pursuit of Love, click on the labels below to see more. I like the idea that the railway platforms of the era were filled with women all dressed alike.

Josephine Tey’s The Singing Sands also features someone dying on a sleeper train.

24 comments:

  1. Moira - I have to admit I liked the details of train travel too. I think those are very nicely done. I wonder if Christie had a particular enjoyment of trains, or at least felt their mystique. I know there are some things about this novel that might have been edited and all that sort of thing, but I've always liked it. Among other things, there's also an interesting glimpse of the social class system of the day.

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    1. I think you might be right - I think she travelled by train a lot, with those frequent visits to the Near East with her archaeologist husband. And of course - relating to your other point - she would have travelled 1st class I think...

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  2. Ooh, another mention - thank you! This book is growing on you, isn't it? I really have morocco case lust now too. ;-) Re Menton, one of the best things I've EVER seen is the Fête du Citron - which is much like it sounds but so much much more - think very large things made out of citrus. The year I went the theme was the history of cinema and I assure you that you haven't lived until you've seen Jurassic Park recreated in oranges.

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    1. Yes you're right, I'm going to be a Blue Train defender, and when I get my Morocco travelling case I will always keep a copy in it, and you must do the same.
      I've never heard of the Fete de Citron, but you make it sound extraordinary. I obviously have to check out getting the train there....

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  3. Moira: Trains and fur coats instantly evoke an era of elegant travel by train. Leaving aside fur coats I cannot really recall the last time I saw anyone get dressed up to go on a plane. Except for the odd business person I rarely see anyone in anything beyond the plainest of clothing. I doubt anyone will be writing about what people wore on airplanes in the early 21st Century decades from now.

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    1. Yes you're so right, it used to be an excuse to dress up, and is definitely the opposite now. However - did people dress on your cruise? I'm guessing you had proper dinners?

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    2. Moira: Oceania has no formal nights. The food is superb but the attire is "country club". Few men wear suits. No passengers wear tuxes. Women vary from the casual to the elaborate. No one has to take their best aboard the ship.

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    3. Oh that's interesting Bill - I obviously have an old-fashioned view of cruising...

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  4. Moira, it's a good idea to split a review of a book into two parts though I doubt I have the patience for it. Sometimes it's not easy to put everything into just one review, especially if you need to cover a lot of ground in a very good book.

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    1. Sometimes it just seems right to do 2 entries - I don't like to make them too long, so that helps. In this case it was also that I found two images that I really liked and wanted to use....

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  5. This is an expansion of Christie's Poirot story The Plymouth Express, I believe, which was also filmed back in the 1990s in a good, rather dark (especially for that point in the series) adaptation with Suchet and company.

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    1. I probably saw it at the time, but don't remember. I'll look out for it. I know I have read the story, and thought that it was very sensible to go for the more romantic and exotic South of France setting rather than the Plymouth Express...

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  6. Blue Train on TV with Elliott Gould and Lindsay Duncan? It was DIRE! Junked Christie's plot, scenario and dialogue for a lot of made-up stuff. And actors acting. When they got to Gould's mad first wife discovered gibbering in a convent I gave up...

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    1. We have to agree to disagree! I really enjoyed it....

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  7. And if you want to know how AC felt about trains, read her autobiography.

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    1. I read it years ago, and am just about to re-read it as I got an original proof copy for a present...

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  8. Nice post, still not persuaded to add one more Christie to the pile. Love the second photo, it kind of looks staged; why is there a policeman if there's no other people?

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    1. The obvious answer is that she's about to be arrested as a mass murdress. But as the pic wasn't specially taken for my blog, we can only guess. The photographer liked weird setups for her fashion shots: Look at this one http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/one-block-west-of-light.html - which I still think is one of my best and most unlikely match-ups of picture to text ever.

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  9. Another reminder that I want to read more books set on trains and that I have not read one Christie this year. I guess that means I need to make up for it in 2015.

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    1. Yes please do, I'd love to read your reviews. Were you doing them in order?

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    2. My plan was to read each series in order, at the very least. That is not set in stone but still my plan. I read Hercule Poirot's Christmas and have a lot of books before that unread. My next planned read is Partners in Crime, and I do like the Tommy and Tuppence books, but got stalled there at the end of last year.

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    3. I take the blame for HP's Christmas! Anyway, lots of happy reading ahead of you...

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  10. Excellent review as always.

    Love the Blue Train and your fashion descriptions.

    THANKS for sharing and for stopping by The Paris Winter review.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved November Edition. I am in the list as #5.

    My book entry is below.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth - I always enjoy your reviews, and I think you too like well-dressed women in books!

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