Tuesday, 22 November 2016

On the Blue Train by Kristel Thornell

When Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926 it sparked a police investigation and a riot of newspaper stories. At the time Christie was emerging as a popular crime novelist and foul play was a definite possibility. Kristel Thornell takes these missing days as a basis for her novel On the Blue Train, concocting a story around what Christie was doing in the interval before being discovered at a hotel in the spa town of Harrogate.

Agatha concots a plan to disappear at a time when her life was unravelling: still grieving for her recently dead mother and with a husband begging for a divorce. What she wanted was a break away and to be looked after, so a spa with its healing baths, massages and relaxed atmosphere was ideal.

Also staying at the Hydro is Harry, a man living off his late wife’s inheritance, at a loss for anything in particular to do and with his own buried grief. Harry listens to classical music in his room and drinks sherry to numb the pain enough so that he can sleep. Harry and Agatha become friends and later confidantes, sharing their personal histories for the benefit of the reader.

While On the Blue Train is something of a slow burner - the plot takes a while to get going and a lot of it is looking backwards rather than forwards - Thornell makes up for the restrictions of her story with impeccable writing. She uses imagery beautifully and I found myself rereading sentences which were always elegant and often haunting.

The atmosphere of the Hyrdro, of steamy baths in winter, dining in evening dress and dancing to the band afterwards, the gentle chatter with other guests, is all brought to life and creates a picture of another era. With its relaxed pace and thoughtful prose, this is a book to take your time with, and a must for anyone interested in the Agatha Christie legend.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: On the Blue Train

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