Friday, October 17, 2014

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Chrisitie (1928)

I believe The Mystery of the Blue Train is the ninth publish Agatha Christie; it's certainly the ninth I've read in my quest to chronologically read Dame Agatha.  It's the first I've read that felt like a Christie though, the Christies I know are coming in this quest.  It's Murder of the Orient Express lite, with a varied cast of characters, and red herrings galore.  There are the prerequisite twists and turns that Agatha Christie is known for.  Hercule Poirot stands alone, which is good.  He doesn't need a Hastings in the manner of Watson (although his interactions with Ariadne Oliver in the far future are some of my favorite Christies).  The setting is incidental to the story, which is probably true for every Christie in the end - I don't remember the Oriental Express being important or interesting for anything other than a vehicle to cram together a host of suspects.    The Mystery of the Blue Train isn't one of the great ones; it's not innovative like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  But Christie is really starting to develop a style that's very evident here.

Another thing I noticed, and for the first time, is how much more 21st century accessible Blue Train is as compared to the other books I read.  There is less 1920s slang; it's still there, but not as obvious or in your face.  The Poirot French is less as well.  It's almost as if she's started to write with a knowledge of her books lasting beyond whatever year they were published.  She will always be stuck in her time period - that's inevitable.  But this felt more modern in language than the previous ones.

I also really liked the mystery - I didn't know a single thing until the very end, which I loved.  I had all these ideas about whodunnit - and none of them were right.  And Christie dangled the truth out there right in front of our noses too.  Completely missed it.  It wasn't a gasp-worthy end, more of an "Ohhhhhh!" type of end.

I almost forgot the most important little tidbit - part of the action (well very, little action, but part of the story) takes place in St Mary Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple!  So Miss Marple is like a ghost in this story, nearly visible, a presence sensed but not actually there.  

apache.  "Something has been happening, yes?"  "Two apaches set upon an elderly American gentleman."  According to Criminal Slang: The Vernacular of the Underground Lingo by Vincent Joseph Monteleon (2003), an "apache" is slang for a "thief" which makes sense, but I hadn't heard of that term before.  It's quite obviously racist, which Christie often is.  Webster's Collegiate Dictionary gives an origin that fits with the setting of the book:  a gangster or thug of Paris; French literally , Apache: first used of Parisian thieves (1902) by Victor Moris, French journalist. 

Debarrass.  Poirot says:  “But no, but no!  Debarrass yourself of that idea, mademoiselle.”  The Free Dictionary online is one of the few places I could find this; none of my go-to online dictionaries included this word.  Their definition, from a 1913 Websters:  v. to disembarrass; to relieve. (a later edition of websters actually has a different definition:  to disembarrass especially by removing what impedes or encumbers; her of her coat but that’s not useful in the contest of what Poirot is saying, although this Webster’s gives the word a French origin.)  It’s a word that has peaked several times in the history of the English language and literature, at least using Google Ngram viewer, with a high in the early 1800s, falling but occasionally peaking throughout the 19th century.  The 1890s was the last time it was in common use. 

Balbriggan stockings.  “Have you come back a stuck-up fine lady, as well as you might have done?  No, there you are, as sensible as ever you were, with a pair of good balbriggan stockings on and sensible shoes.” defines balbriggan as:  “a plain-knit cotton fabric, used especially in hosiery and underwear.”  Named for Balbriggan, Ireland, home of Smith’s Stockings Mill, makers of Queen Victoria’s favorite stockings.  So when the little old lady was complimenting Katherine Grey, she was staying that she was plain folk and like good old Queen Victoria – nothing fancy about her, even though she’d come into some money and been to the French Riviera. 

"Mademoiselle Katherine has spent a great deal of her life listening, and those who have listened do not find it easy to talk; they keep their sorrows and joys to themselves and tell no one."  I liked this quote; it describes several people I know.

Poirot French

Ça y est !  From what I gather on the Internets, and in context of what Hercule Poirot is saying and doing, I think he’s saying “That’s it” or “That’s all.” 

Ce type lá.  Mirelle is speaking to her lover Derek about the Comte de la Roche, and refers to him as ce type lá.   I think this means “he would be that kind of person.”  She might have just called him “duplicitous pot stirring asshat” too. 

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot, #6)The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A strong Christie, that hints of the great, complicated murder mysteries that Christie was yet to write when this was published in 1928.  You, dear reader, will be frustrated by what Hercule Poirot keeps from us - but I was still delighted by the unexpected ending.  Quite frankly, Dame Agatha dangled the truth before us almost from the very beginning, but I for one followed other red herrings and totally guessed the "whodunnit" incorrectly. It isn't one of her perfect mysteries, and certainly not of the best; but utterly enjoyable all the same. 

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