The Plymouth Express is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Sketch in April 1923 in the U.K. The story was published in the U.S. in The Blue Book Magazine in January 1924. In 1951, the story appeared as part of the anthology The Under Dog and Other Stories published in the U.S. In the U.K., the story was anthologised and published as part of Poirot's Early Cases in 1974.
This short story was expanded five years later into the full-length novel The Mystery of the Blue Train, with a very similar plot, but with names and details changed.
A young woman is found dead in a train compartment and her valuable jewels have been stolen. Her wealthy father asks Poirot to find her killer.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
A young naval officer undertakes a train journey on the Plymouth express and finds the dead body of a woman underneath one of the seats in his carriage. The woman is later identified as Flossie Halliday, latterly the Honourable Mrs Rupert Carrington, the daughter of an American steel magnate Ebenezer Halliday. Her father asks Poirot to investigate.
Poirot has already done some work for Halliday in the past and knows Flossie's background. Some time ago she was caught up with an adventurer called Count de la Rochefour but her father took her back to America to get her away from the Count. She later married Rupert Carrington who was to prove just as unsuitable a husband, being a gambling addict and deep in debt. They soon drifted apart and were about to announce a legal separation.
Hercule Poirot and Hastings call on Mr Halliday at his house in Park Lane. He tells them that his daughter was going to a house party in the West Country. She travelled by train from Paddington intending to change at Bristol for Plymouth. Her maid Jane Mason traveled with her in a third-class carriage. Flossie was carrying almost a hundred thousand dollars worth of jewels to wear at a house party.
At Bristol Flossie tells Mason she has changed her travel plans. She wants Mason to get off at Bristol and there for a few hours while she travelled on to some unspecified destination. She would return in a few hours and they would then catch a train to Plymouth. When Flossie was speaking to her, Mason could see the back of a man in her compartment.
Mason waited at Bristol for most of the day but Flossie never came back. In the next day's paper she read that Flossie had been chloroformed and then stabbed. The jewels had been stolen.
Poirot and Hastings question Mason and she describes the man in Flossie's compartment as tall and slender but can't be sure if it was Rupert Carrington or not. She also described Flossie's clothes at the time of her death, which included an electric blue dress.
Poirot and Hastings go back to Halliday. Poirot is sure he is holding something back and finally Halliday produces a note found in his daughter's pocket from the Count de la Rochefour. It appears that the romance of the two has been restarted and Poirot guessed as much since Halliday was not pushing for the investigation to concentrate on his son-in-law, despite his evident dislike of him.
Japp makes inquiries into the whereabouts of Rupert Carrington and the Count de la Rochefour at the time of the murder but neither can be found. He next proceeds to look for clues along the train line. Poirot prefers to stay put and focus on the psychology of the crime.
When Japp returns, Poirot immediately guesses that he had found the murder weapon by the side of the line after Bristol between Weston and Taunton and that he had found a paper boy who sold papers to Flossie at Weston. Japp is astounded but confirms these findings.
Japp adds that one of the jewels has been pawned by a known jewel thief called "Red Narky". He usually works with a woman called Gracie Kidd but he seems to be alone this time. Poirot and Hastings immediately go to Halliday's house and ask to be taken to a room on the top floor. Rummaging through a trunk Poirot finds clothes like the ones worn by Flossie when she was murdered. By this time Halliday joins them, followed by Mason who Poirot introduces as Gracie Kidd.
In Gracie's statements, she had sought to draw attention to the clothes Flossie was wearing. Poirot found this suspicious. Gracie and "Red Narky" probably murdered Mrs Carrington before Bristol. After this, Gracie dressed up in clothes like Flossie's. At Weston, Gracie bought newspapers from a boy and made sure he remembered her by giving him a large tip. Gracie then threw the murder weapon out of the carriage down the line to establish the time and place of the killing. The story about the man in the carriage at the Bristol interchange was a just a red herring. By making the murder appear to have taken place later than it was, Gracie provided herself with an alibi since she claimed she had been told to get off at Bristol.
- Hercule Poirot
- Captain Hastings
- Inspector Japp
- Lieutenant Alec Simpson
- Ebenezer Halliday
- Rupert Carrington
- Mrs Flossie Carrington
- Count Armand de la Rochefour
- Jane Mason
- Red Narky
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple
NHK produced a two episode anime adaptation of the story as episodes 25-26 of their Japanese anime series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple with the same title: The Plymouth Express (プリマス行き急行列車 - Purimasu-yuki Kyūkō-ressha). The episodes were broadcast between 6 February 2005 and 13 February 2005 and feature Poirot and Hastings assisted by Miss Marple's great niece Mabel West.
- 1923 The Sketch, Issue 1575 (London), 4 April 1923
- 1924 The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 38 No. 3 (Chicago), January 1924 (as "The Plymouth Express Affair")
- 1951 The Underdog and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1951, Hardback, 248 pp
- 1974, Poirot's Early Cases, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1974, Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-231312-X