Book review: The Sleeping Car Murders

The Sleeping Car Murders

The Sleeping Car Murders,
by Sébastien Japrisot
Translated by Francis Price
Gallic Books
US publication date 11/2/2021
Compartiment tueurs
was first published in French in 1962
208 pages
French mystery / Classic


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Last month, I shared with you my enthusiasm for a book by Sébastien Japrisot, Rider on the rain. After that one and Trap For Cinderella, I am thrilled to share a third one today: The Sleeping Car Murders

In Gare de Lyon, Paris, Pierre is in charge of checking empty compartments after passengers left the Phocéen train coming from Marseille. Routine and rather boring job until he finds the corpse of a young and pretty woman.
Who is she? Why was she on this train? Why was she killed? Who did it?

The setting will obviously make you think of Murder on the Orient Express (published 28 years before). In The Sleeping Car Murders, detectives also need to check which passenger was in which berth, and this is actually not an easy task.
Each chapter of the book focuses on a different berth and its actual or possible occupant, and we see the story from different perspectives.

Beside the night train situation, the novel is very different in its outcome (it would not have been smart to copy Agatha Christie’s book, so this information is not a spoiler) and definitely in its ambiance.
There are as many suspects as passengers, and more, and the tone is more
noir than the Hercule Poirot story. And obviously too, many red-herrings.

The ending is original in its format: readers will finally get the answers to all their questions in the last chapter, which is a transcription of the police interrogation.

I liked the ambiance (typical of Paris in the 1960s), and the description of many characters, some quite shady.
In Japrisot, it seems there are always obscure and convoluted threads to the story, but all was satisfyingly resolved. Though some readers may be surprised by the end, especially remembering the book was written in 1962.

I realized this was made into a French movie in 1964 with extremely famous actors. Unfortunately, this movie has been rather forgotten, and I had a very hard time finding it. I finally did, and it was neat to see how they managed to convey the complexity of the story.

Japrisot is definitely a French author of classic mysteries that is worth discovering, and I’m glad Gallic Books has been (re)translating several of his works. My favorite is still Rider on the rain.

VERDICT: Another murder on a night train? No worry, this noir and French variation has a lot of surprises in store for you.

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Or any other great novel taking place on a train?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge from the publisher, for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


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