The Woman on the Orient Express: A Novel, by Lindsay Jane Ashford

This book is an interesting combination of homage to and mystery in the style of Agatha Christie.

Christie has made a bad marriage, a marriage she wants to distance herself from. She decides on a trip to a place about as far as possible from London by land route, heading to Baghdad on the Orient Express to satisfy one of her great personal interests: Archaeology. There has been an impressive dig looking into the culture of Ur. Along the way she hopes to research a book that she’s been pondering setting on the famous train. She gets a ticket under a false name to maintain her privacy (oh, the glories of a pre-TSA world) and starts on her way.

Like her heroes Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, Christie finds herself in the company of an odd collection of fellow English, especially two women who both seem to have secrets of their own.

Not to switch gears too much, I remember sitting in a theater to watch the first Indiana Jones movie and feeling ecstatic … that’s really the word … at a film that visited exotic places and even used the old movie technique of showing a plane cross a yellowed map. There was a sense of the adventure of visiting distant parts of the world. That’s something I’ve often felt in Christie novels, with travels down the Nile and around the Mediterranean.

Ashford does an excellent job of describing a world that has long-since disappeared as the train crosses Europe and, after boating across the Bosporus, continues on into Mesopotamia. There are a few mysteries to solve along the way and a person to save, and Christie herself needs to resort to “What Would Poirot Do” self examinations because real mysteries never fall quite into line the way they will in a book.

The book is also filled with facts about Christie and her life including her poor first marriage and details about the awful man she married, references to her famous disappearance, her relationship with her daughter, and the new love of her life who became her second husband in a marriage that lasted from 1930 until her death.

As fun as parts of the book are Ashford could wish for more of Christie’s storycraft. The book lacks some of the kinetic drive of a good Christie book. But Christie was a unique and wonderful writer and matching her ability to pace a work might be too much to hope for.