Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 


Flucht in den Norden

Flucht in den Norden : Roman - Klaus Mann

This contains spoilers.


Here's a first: a Klaus Mann novel I was looking forward to but that I ended up wanting to finish very quickly because I wanted the book to end and wanted to move on to something else. 


This was Mann's first book after having to emigrate from Germany. The story features a young woman who is forced to flee from the Nazis because she's a communist and has been involved in helping the resistance. 

She manages, by way of false passports and underground travel, to go to Finland where she can stay with a friend's family. 

What follows is basically Mann's argumentation for putting one's political ideals over caring for the people around one, and this is where the book falls down for me. 


While the MC manages to get out, her parents are left behind in Berlin, now unable to work because of their connection with an "enemy of state", and yet our MC doesn't seem to care. Maybe she's trying to suppress her feelings in that regard to keep sane and to find the strength to not despair, but that is not how it struck me in the book. 


When in Finland, she observes that people there too are, to some extent, sympathising with the Nazis because they believe to have a common foe in the Russians, and yet, instead of trying to fight this, our MC only thinks about her friends and comrades who have managed to settle in Paris and who are continuing to run operations from there.


It's almost like our MC is on the run from her own involvement by looking to be involved at another place rather than dealing with the people and day-to-day situations that occur around her. 


Maybe this is an expression of our MC's feeling of helplessness or depression at the time, but given the political polemics that are thrown in throughout the book, I didn't get the impression that despair or paralysis to act were something that Mann wanted to communicate. Given that at the end of the book, our MC decides to, yet, again leave the people she loves (and who really could do with her help) to join "the cause" in Paris, paralysis does not seem to be her issue as much as facing up to the task of realising the needs of the people around her.


Now, maybe it is because I disagree with this call to arms for an idea, that is so impersonal that it completely ignores the actual people it is meant to serve, or maybe it is that I dislike having politics - any politics - pushed at me, but the underlying motivations for what our MC does or does not do in this novel just made no sense to me. 


Of course, it may also be that Mann himself didn't find any credible motivations in the acts of the characters, or of many of the people around him, when he wrote the book, but as much as I could sympathise with him writing the book in the circumstances that he did, it just did not make for compelling reading. Especially not, when we know he could write much better books. 

The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘A mirror shows the truth, but everyone stands in a different place for looking into the mirror.’


I have always thought of The Mystery of the Blue Train as a strange story - not a first rate mystery, not a complete mess, but most definitely not a memorable Christie classic.


As Christie herself tells us in her autobiography, she was not fond of this story either - partly because she didn't feel like she managed to flesh out the characters so they would come alive on the page, and partly because she wrote this story under the pressures of having to earn a paycheck after the separation from her first husband. 

I felt more strongly than ever that everything I was saying was idiotic! (Most of it was, too.) I faltered, stammered, hesitated, and repeated myself. Really, how that wretched book ever came to be written, I don’t know! To begin with, I had no joy in writing, no elan. I had worked out the plot–a conventional plot, partly adapted from one of my other stories. I knew, as one might say, where I was going, but I could not see the scene in my mind’s eye, and the people would not come alive. I was driven desperately on by the desire, indeed the necessity, to write another book and make some money. That was the moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well. I have always hated The Mystery of the Blue Train, but I got it written, and sent off to the publishers. It sold just as well as my last book had done. So I had to content myself with that–though I cannot say I have ever been proud of it.


Agatha Christie - An Autobiography (pp. 357-358). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And indeed, for me, too, there is little that stood out in the characters when I first read the story, and the crime and it's motive are, while horrible, fairly uninteresting. 

As a result, I have always looked at this story as a first draft of what would become one of my favourite Christie classics - Murder on the Orient Express.


On this most recent re-read, however, details that were not strictly connected with the whodunnit revealed themselves that gave the story another layer, that connected this odd little story to the rest, and the best, of the Christie universe. 

If you look closely, you can find that one of the characters, Katherine Grey, does not only have the spark of the brightest of Christie's young things but she's also come from that most intriguing of little villages - that cradle of human psychology in the Christie universe - St Mary Mead, home of a certain fierce and judgmental little old lady whom I can't stand but who, one has to admit, has a certain flair for snooping out crime.


This is as close as we get to Marple and Poirot ever meeting in the same book. They don't (and Christie herself was not in favour of them meeting), but The Mystery of the Blue Train seems like one of the key steps in Christie's development of the Marple series, even if this was perhaps not what the author intended. 


The full force of Marple would hit the reading public two years later in Murder at the Vicarage, but there are some hints at village life that seem to have already been on Christie's mind when penning Blue Train. For the Christie enthusiast - or Agathyte as Moonlight Reader has christened us fans - this is a delicious little detail that makes the book worth reading if it lacks much of the intelligent and complex plotting of a great Christie novel.  


Previous Reading Updates:


Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 44 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 78 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 104 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 196 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 276 out of 308 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 293 out of 308 pages.


Reading progress update: I've read 210 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘I see…Yes, I see now a lot of things.’

‘It’s about time,’ said Mrs Oliver.


‘I said it was about time,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘That you did see things, I mean. Up to now you don’t seem to have done anything.’ Her voice held reproach.


‘One cannot arrive at things all in a moment,’ said Poirot, defending himself. ‘The police,’ he added, ‘have been completely baffled.’

‘Oh, the police,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘Now if a woman were the head of Scotland Yard…’


Recognizing this well-known phrase, Poirot hastened to interrupt. 



One of Ariadne's best lines from Cards on the Table and I love that she maintains her convictions in this one.


Reading progress update: I've read 140 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

Looking at the ceiling, the inspector spoke.


‘Mrs Legge says she was in the tea tent between four and four-thirty. Mrs Folliat says she was helping in the tea tent from four o’clock on but that Mrs Legge was not among those present.’ He paused and then went on, ‘Miss Brewis says that Lady Stubbs asked her to take a tray of cakes and fruit juice to Marlene Tucker. Michael Weyman says that it’s quite impossible Lady Stubbs should have done any such thing – it would be most uncharacteristic of her.’

(show spoiler)


‘Ah,’ said Poirot, ‘the conflicting statements! Yes, one always has them.’



Reading progress update: I've read 119 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

Oh, no! Xxx is missing! Has anyone searched the attic?

Reading progress update: I've read 79 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

Well, damn. My wish for murder victim hasn't materialised and Alec Legge is still around somewhere in this story.




However, I have enjoyed Poirot's stroll through the fete:

Poirot emerged from the tent and was immediately challenged by a determined woman and made to pay sixpence and guess the weight of a cake.

A hoop-la stall presided over by a fat motherly woman urged him to try his luck and, much to his discomfiture, he immediately won a large Kewpie doll. Walking sheepishly along with this he encountered Michael Weyman who was standing gloomily on the outskirts near the top of a path that led down to the quay.


Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

Well, this has turned sinister quite quickly.

‘Well, well…’ Alec Legge seemed amused. ‘Most unexpected coming from you. Do you know what I should like to see done in this country?’


‘Something, no doubt, forceful and unpleasant,’ said Poirot, smiling.


Alec Legge remained serious. ‘I should like to see every feeble-minded person put out – right out! Don’t let them breed. If, for one generation, only the intelligent were allowed to breed, think what the result would be.’


‘A very large increase of patients in the psychiatric wards, perhaps,’ said Poirot dryly. ‘One needs roots as well as flowers on a plant, Mr Legge. However large and beautiful the flowers, if the earthy roots are destroyed there will be no more flowers.’

Mr Legge has just won himself the top spot on my list of potential victims.

Reading progress update: I've read 24 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘How do you do, M. Poirot,’ she said. ‘I do hope you didn’t have too crowded a journey? The trains are sometimes too terrible this time of year. Let me give you some tea. Milk? Sugar?’


‘Very little milk, mademoiselle, and four lumps of sugar.’ He added, as Miss Brewis dealt with his request, ‘I see that you are all in a great state of activity.’


Quelle horreur!!! Poirot is drinking tea?!?!?



Reading progress update: I've read 4 out of 235 pages.

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

Oh, yes, this will be a fun one!

‘That was Mrs Oliver,’ he said. ‘Ariadne Oliver, the detective novelist. You may have read…’

   But he stopped, remembering that Miss Lemon only read improving books and regarded such frivolities as fictional crime with contempt.

   ‘She wants me to go down to Devonshire today, at once, in’ – he glanced at the clock – ‘thirty-five minutes.’

   Miss Lemon raised disapproving eyebrows. ‘That will be running it rather fine,’ she said. ‘For what reason?’

   ‘You may well ask! She did not tell me.’

‘How very peculiar. Why not?’

   ‘Because,’ said Hercule Poirot thoughtfully, ‘she was afraid of being overheard. Yes, she made that quite clear.’

   ‘Well, really,’ said Miss Lemon, bristling in her employer’s defence.

‘The things people expect! Fancy thinking that you’d go rushing off on some wild goose chase like that! An important man like you! I have always noticed that these artists and writers are very unbalanced – no sense of proportion. Shall I telephone through a telegram: Regret unable leave London?’

Ariadne Oliver and Miss Lemon in the same book! Delightful!

Surely Christie must have had fun with the concept of suspending Poirot between the two formidable ladies of such opposite qualities. 

Poirot was directed to a winding path that led along the wood with glimpses of the river below. The path descended gradually until it came out at last on an open space, round in shape, with a low battlemented parapet. On the parapet Mrs Oliver was sitting.


She rose to meet him and several apples fell from her lap and rolled in all directions. Apples seemed to be an inescapable motif of meeting Mrs Oliver.


‘I can’t think why I always drop things,’ said Mrs Oliver somewhat indistinctly, since her mouth was full of apple. ‘How are you, M. Poirot?’


‘Tre`s bien, che`re Madame,’ replied Poirot politely. ‘And you?’


Mrs Oliver was looking somewhat different from when Poirot had last seen her, and the reason lay, as she had already hinted over the telephone, in the fact that she had once more experimented with her coiffure. The last time Poirot had seen her, she had been adopting a windswept effect. Today, her hair, richly blued, was piled upward in a multiplicity of rather artificial little curls in a pseudo Marquise style. The Marquise effect ended at her neck; the rest of her could have been definitely labelled ‘country practical,’ consisting of a violent yolk-of-egg rough tweed coat and skirt and a rather bilious-looking mustard-coloured jumper.

BR with Moonlight Reader

Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

This is my penultimate Christie.


While it is a little sad that the project is coming to an end, I could not have imagined that the final books would all be buddy reads with my esteemed fellow Agathytes. It's a little like a Christie party, and it should be! Reading her books has been a blast.


And now, for the last time (in the realms of this project), bring on the brilliance and wit of Poirot and Ariadne Oliver!


Reading progress update: I've read 293 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie


Poirot smiled. He was sitting opposite the millionaire at a luncheon table in the latter’s private suite at the Negresco. Facing him was a relieved but very puzzled man. Poirot leant back in his chair, lit one of his tiny cigarettes, and stared reflectively at the ceiling.

‘Yes, I will give you explanations. It began with the one point that puzzled me. You know what that point was?'




Reading progress update: I've read 276 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘You have heard me speak of my friend Hastings?—he who said that I was a human oyster. Eh bien, Mademoiselle, I have met my match in you. You, far more than I, play a lone hand.’

A human oyster? Hahahaha. This is one of the reasons I like Hasting's so much. He may be at the end of Poirot's jokes on many occasions, but he isn't even in this book and still manages to offer up such a magnificent description of the great detective.


Also, Miss Viner. I'm quite sad that her circumstances would prevent her making a reappearance in the later Marple books. She would have been a magnificent counter-point to Marple in the village setting ... perhaps somewhat in the line of a Lucia to Miss Mapp. 


Also, I am rather enjoying the other snippets we get of life in St Mary Mead: If Miss Viner describes the curate as "high" and the vicar's wife as a cat, it somewhat sets the scene for Murder at the Vicarage which is to follow two years later ... tho the vicar's wife's character is changed. In terms of figuring our the Christie universe, it is tempting to re-read Murder at the Vicarage to see if there are any clues as to how long the vicar and his wife have been in situ, but this again is one of the attractions of the Christie unveils the little details that may connect the story to the other books.

Reading progress update: I've read 196 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘You think—you think it was Derek?’ he queried, ‘but—everything points the other way. Why, the Count has actually been caught red-handed with the jewels on him.’


‘But you told me—’

‘What did I tell you?’

‘That story about the jewels. You showed them to me.’


Van Aldin stared at him.

‘You mean to say you didn’t show them to me?’


‘Yesterday—at the tennis?’


‘Are you crazy, M. Poirot, or am I?’



And with this, I am calling it a night for tonight. I will finish this book in the morning.

Reading progress update: I've read 104 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘Why did you come?’ she said at last. ‘To us, I mean. We’re not your sort.’

‘Oh, I am anxious to get into Society.’

‘Don’t be an ass,’ said Lenox promptly, detecting the flicker of a smile. ‘You know what I mean well enough. You are not a bit what I thought you would be. I say, you have got some decent clothes.’ She sighed. ‘Clothes are no good to me. I was born awkward. It’s a pity, because I love them.’

‘I love them too,’ said Katherine, ‘but it has not been much use my loving them up to now. Do you think this is nice?’

She and Lenox discussed several models with artistic fervour.

‘I like you,’ said Lenox suddenly. ‘I came up to warn you not to be taken in by Mother, but I think now that there is no need to do that. You are frightfully sincere and upright and all those queer things, but you are not a fool. Oh hell! what is it now?’

I really like Lennox.

Reading progress update: I've read 78 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

‘Oh, dear,’ Katherine thought to herself, ‘how extraordinarily alike the world seems to be everywhere! People were always telling me things in St Mary Mead, and it is just the same thing here, and I don’t really want to hear anybody’s troubles!’

OMG - for a moment I thought that Katherine of St Mary Mead is none other than the "Anti-Marple"!


And then she went to spoil it with:

She replied politely: ‘Do tell me.’



Reading progress update: I've read 44 out of 308 pages.

The Mystery of the Blue Train: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christie

I'm a little behind with the BR, but am looking to catch up soon. 


First thoughts about the book are:


1.  How peculiar and perhaps a little telling (?) to start the book with the run down of a failing marriage and the preparations of a divorce when this is the first second* book Dame Agatha needed to write for a paycheck after getting divorced herself. 


(* I stand corrected: The first one was The Big Four, which explains a lot.)


2. I completely forgot how much pressure there is on all of the main characters right from the start - whether it is the threat of divorce, the threat of blackmail, the threat of scandal, or the vague threat of a stranger that looks familiar but keeps popping up in odd places.

‘But you are right, mon ami, we must not dwell on possibilities. See now, my little Dereek, there must be no more talk of this divorce. Your wife must give up the idea.’

‘And if she won’t?’

The dancer’s eyes narrowed to slits.

‘I think she will, my friend. She is one of those who would not like the publicity. There are one or two pretty stories that she would not like her friends to read in the newspapers.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Kettering sharply.

Mirelle laughed, her head thrown back.

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