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[838] The Mystery of the Blue Train – Agatha Christie

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“A mirror shows the truth, but everyone stands in a different place for looking into the mirror.” (Ch.32, 291)

On the luxurious Blue Train Ruth Kettering, daughter of American billionaire Rufus Van Aldin, travels to Nice on her annual winter getaway with some precious rubies in her possession. Without her father’s knowing, she has planned a secret rendezvous with an old flame, of whom her father despises, in the French Riviera.

In another compartment sits Katherine Grey, who has come to wealth after she inherits a fortune from the old lady she has taken care the past ten years. Also on board is Dereek Kettering, who has no idea that his wife is on the train, and he is with his mistress, the actress Mirelle. The next morning, no sooner has Grey got off the train than she is called as a witness to Ruth Kettering’s murder. She has struck a brief conversation with Ruth Kettering who confided in her her troubles. What is more, Katherine Grey recognizes Dereek as the man she saw going into Ruth’s compartment on the night of her murder.

The story, though lesser known, is well-crafted, and the characterization nuanced. At stake is the precious jewelry that would benefit Dereek, but Hercule Poirot from instinct dismisses the obvious evidence that implicates the husband. There are things that do not add up: a lighter with the engraved ‘K’, the victim’s maid left the train in Paris and didn’t accompany her mistress, and the fact that Ruth’s face was disfigured. It’s the layering of issues and their underlying problems that are most impressive about the plot. Christie has deftly led reader astray from the original assessments, and there is more to the story than what appears.

Mystery aside this book is about women who are coming to terms of their own. Ruth Kettering is locked in an unhappy marriage; Katherine Grey is a woman who keeps her own counsel. They meet on the train just hours before Ruth was murdered. This is not a fast-paced mystery, but Christie has a way of bringing together characters, who at first seem so far apart from one another in distance and temperament.

317 pp. Black Dog & Leventhal. Hardback. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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[709] The A.B.C. Murders – Agatha Christie

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” It is not the facts I reflect upon—but the mind of the murderer. . . I begin to see—not what you would like to see—the outlines of a face and form but the outlines of a mind. A mind that moves and works in a certain definite directions. “(Ch.17, p.117)

The A.B.C. Murders is considered one of Christie’s finest works, not so much a mystery than a detective fiction. Think of it as a brilliant perception of the murderer’s mind on the part of Hercule Poirot. The book features Captain Arthur Hastings as the narrator who goes into details the personal relationships that arise as a consequence of the strange series of crimes.

The chase begins when Poirot receives a typewritten letter, on fine stationery he emphasizes, from a Mr. ABC informing him about the murder he is going to commit—given the exact date and place of the crime. While Poirot’s sixth sense (and experience) tells him to take this man seriously, the police dismisses the matter as a hoax. But, Poirot is proved right when an old lady shopkepper named Alice Ascher is found murdered in Andover. Mr. ABC proceeds, unlike a serial killer who randomly removes anyone in his way, in a neat alphabetical order as if he wants to assert his personality. The second letter is followed by the murder of a young waitress named Elizabeth Bernard in Bexhill-on-Sea—the B murder as promised on the agenda.

ABC is no fool, even if he is a madman. (Ch.21, p.153)

Now that a serial killer is on the loose, working his way through the alphabet, the whole country is in panic. The third letter however goes astray and reaches Poirot only on the morning of the day of the murder. Poirot and the police reach the house of Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston only to find him murdered in the woods. All three victims are distinctly different. The ABC has left only one apparent clue with the dead body of every victim—-ABC railway timetable guides.

In my opinion the strength of his obsession is such that he must attempt to carry out his promise! Not to do so would be admit failure, and that his insane egoism would never allow. (Ch.23, p.168)

While Poirot interviews the families of victims, he observes that, in every case, there is at least one person who has motve to be the murderer. Parallel to this investigation is a Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust, an old, dim-witted, ordinary salesman of stockings. Cust is a war veteran who has sustained head injury and epilepsy. He is deemed the lunatic killer when it’s been revealed that he was present in all the towns where the crimes took place. But he didn’t remember any details.

The A.B.C. Murders showcases Hercule Poirot’s finesse in detective skills. Instead of taking the face value of superficial facts, Poirot digs deeper into the murderer’s mind, knowing the series of crimes and the psychology do not match up. Christie obviously is not afraid of adopting avant-garde approaches to the detective genre. She constantly befuddles reader and even Poirot himself. Instead of the usual “whodunit” approach, the psychology of the crime has been given more prominence. The whole novel has me thinking whether the crimes are indeed the doing of a mad man, or the other way? What is so particularly brilliant about this book is that while red herrings abound, the reader is left wondering at the end how one can have missed the obvious solution.

252 pp. William Morrow. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Hercule Poirot

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The Guardian UK sifted out the top 10 Agatha Christie novels back in 2009, in chronological order:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) H
Peril at End House (1932) H
Murder on the Orient Express (1934) H
The ABC Murders (1935) H
And Then There Were None (1939)
Five Little Pigs (1943) H
Crooked House (1949)
A Murder is Announced (1950) M
Endless Night (1967)
Curtain: Poirot’s Last case (1975) H

Six of these are Hercule Poirot mysteries. Christie brought Hercule Poirot to life in 1916, when she was inspired to write her first crime novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She was unable to account for the creation of this extraordinary little being, with his fanatical love of order, his delicious conceit, his sexless cosmopolitan charm. In her autobiography she referred, almost cursorily, to how Poirot was inspired by the wartime Belgian refugees who had lived in her home town of Torquay; but this was no explanation of the mystery of creativity, the instinct that had guided her so surely.

Poirot’s intelligence and quirkiness are what appeal to me.He is incomparably fussy about his appearance; and he is extremely confident and competent in his deductions. On occasions he has warned someone ahead of time not to follow through a plan or scheme or relationship. Although one might have seen all that he has seen up to that moment, what is obvious to him becomes merely foreshadowing for the reader.