The Mystery of the Blue Train is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by William Collins & Sons on 29 March 1928 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The book features her detective Hercule Poirot.
The novel features the murder of an American heiress on Le Train Bleu, the titular “Blue Train”. The novel’s heroine, Katherine Grey, comes from the fictional village of St Mary Mead, which just happens to be the name of the hometown of Agatha Christie’s second most famous crime-solving sleuth, Jane Marple, whose character was introduced after this novel was published.
The novel’s plot is based on the 1923 Poirot short story “The Plymouth Express” (later collected in book form in the US in 1951 in The Under Dog and Other Stories and in the UK in 1974 in Poirot’s Early Cases).
This novel features the first mention, in a novel, of the fictional village of St. Mary Mead, which had originally appeared in “The Tuesday Night Club” published in December 1927. It was the first short story of Christie’s detective Miss Marple. It also features the first appearance of the minor recurring character, Mr Goby, who would later appear in After the Funeral and Third Girl. The book also features the first appearance of Poirot’s valet, George.
Poirot boards Le Train Bleu, bound for the French Riviera. So does Katherine Grey, who is having her first winter out of England, after recently receiving a relatively large inheritance. On board the train Grey meets Ruth Kettering, an American heiress leaving her unhappy marriage to meet her lover. The next morning, though, Ruth is found dead in her compartment, a victim of strangulation.
The famous ruby, “Heart of Fire”, which had recently been given to Ruth by her father, is discovered to be missing. Ruth’s father, the American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin, and his secretary, Major Knighton, persuade Poirot to take on the case. Ruth’s maid, Ada Mason, says that she saw a man in Ruth’s compartment but could not see who he was. The police suspect that Ruth’s lover, the Comte de la Roche, killed her and stole the ruby, but Poirot does not think that the Comte is guilty. He is suspicious of Ruth’s husband, Derek Kettering, who was on the same train but claims not to have seen Ruth. Katherine says that she saw Derek enter Ruth’s compartment. Further suspicion is thrown on Derek when a cigarette case with the letter “K” is found there.
Poirot investigates and finds out that the murder and the jewel theft might not be connected, as the famous jewel thief “The Marquis” is connected to the crime. Eventually, the avaricious Mirelle, who was on the train with Derek — with whom she had been having an affair but, now spurned, is seeking revenge against him — tells Poirot she saw Derek leave Ruth’s compartment around the time the murder would have taken place. Derek is then arrested. Everyone is convinced the case is solved, but Poirot is not sure. He does more investigating and learns more information, talking to his friends and to Katherine, eventually coming to the truth.
He asks Van Aldin and Knighton to come with him on the Blue Train to recreate the murder. He tells them that Ada Mason is really Kitty Kidd, a renowned male impersonator and actress. Katherine saw what she thought was a boy getting off the train, but it was really Mason. Poirot realised that Mason was the only person who saw anyone with Ruth in the compartment, so this could have been a lie. He reveals that the murderer and Mason’s accomplice is Knighton, who is really the ruthless “Marquis”. He also says that the cigarette case with the K on it does not stand for ‘Kettering’, but for ‘Knighton’. Since Knighton was supposedly in Paris, no one would have suspected him. Derek did go into the compartment to talk to Ruth once he saw she was on the train, but he left when he saw she was asleep. The police arrest Knighton and the case is closed.
- 1928, William Collins and Sons (London), 29 March 1928, Hardcover, 296 pp
- 1928, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1928, Hardcover, 306 pp
- 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (As part of the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Seven Dials Mystery and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardcover (Priced at 7/6)
- 1940, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 276 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 691), 250 pp
- 1954, Pan Books, Paperback (Pan number 284)
- 1956, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 194 pp
- 1958, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 248 pp
The Mystery of the Blue Train was first serialised in the London evening newspaper The Star in thirty-eight un-illustrated instalments from Wednesday 1 February to Thursday 15 March 1928. The entire first two chapters were omitted from the serialisation and it therefore contained only thirty-four chapters. There were slight amendments to the text, either to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g. changing “She then…” to “Katherine then…”), or omitting small sentences or words, especially in the opening instalment where several paragraphs were omitted.
A reference to the continental Daily Mail at the start of chapter six (chapter eight in the book) was changed to “the newspaper” to avoid mentioning a competitor to The Star. Three chapters were given different names: chapter nine (eleven in the book) was called Something Good instead of Murder, chapter twenty-six (twenty-eight in the book) was called Poirot hedges instead of Poirot plays the Squirrel and chapter twenty-eight (chapter thirty in the book) was called Katherine’s letters instead of Miss Viner gives judgement. The final chapter, called By the Sea in the book, was unnamed in the serialisation.
This is the only major work by Agatha Christie in which the UK first edition carries no copyright or publication date.
The Mystery of the Blue Train – First Edition Book Identification Guide
The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.
|First edition/printing identification points
|The Mystery of the Blue Train
|William Collins & Sons, London, 
|First edition. "Copyright" stated on the copyright page. No copyright or publication date. No statement of later printings. Navy blue cloth, lettered in orange. Price 7/6.
|The Mystery of the Blue Train
|Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1928
|First American edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Blue cloth lettred in red. Issued with orange wrap around band, lettred in black. Price $ 2.00
Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:
UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.
US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.
Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.
The Mystery of the Blue Train – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.