If I hadn’t already known I was reading an English translation of a French murder mystery, I would have figured it out anyway by the fourth paragraph of The Sleeping Car Murders. That’s the paragraph where Pierre, the railroad employee whose job it is to check over the just-arrived Phocéen train, and thus the man who is soon going to find the body, is thinking instead about the strike coming up the next week. And somehow, at least in my mind, there are few things more French than a railroad strike!
Setting work stoppages aside, however, Sleeping Car is still a very French novel – from the habits and attitudes of its characters to its settings all around Paris. At first, it seems to be a classic locked room mystery, with the suspects limited to the other folks in the same sleeping carriage as Georgette Thomas, the pretty young woman who is the victim. But events soon complicate matters. There are mix-ups with the berths – Thomas is found is in berth 222, but her ticket stub shows she should have been in berth 224. And one of the other berths was supposed to be occupied but was empty until late in the evening. Did anyone ever occupy it? And if so, who? Inspector Grazziano (Grazzi) and his team start trying to figure out the timeline of what actually happened on the Phocéen, but their efforts are hampered when the sleeping car’s other passengers start turning up dead too. And the seemingly simple mystery becomes much more than just a locked room puzzle – before author Sébastien Japrisot wraps it all up at the end with a nice twist.
The Sleeping Car Murders was written in the early 1960s, but although in 2021, it now seems a bit like a historical mystery, it has weathered time well. Social attitudes and mores may have changed some over the decades, but Japrisot wrote about some pretty basic human emotions (jealousy, envy, greed) that haven’t. All-in-all, although it’s occasionally a little bit dark, I really enjoyed this book, and will be looking to read some of Japrisot’s other books in the future. It’s also worth noting that, per SYKM, Sleeping Car’s original French title is Compartiment tueurs, and it has also been translated into English as The 10:30 from Marseille. And finally, I’d like to thank Gallic Books and Edelweiss for providing me with an advance review copy of this new e-book edition.