Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can't neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.
Agatha isn't the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling's first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson -- newly married but carrying another man's child -- is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shit to intersect -- with lasting repercussions.
Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.
As an Agatha Christie fan, and a fan of the 1920s and 1930s, I thought I would probably enjoy this book. The beautiful cover made the prospect even more inviting.
I was wrong. No probably about it. And I more than enjoyed it - - I absolutely and thoroughly adored this book.
Where to begin? Author Lindsay Jayne Ashford takes a real person (author Agatha Christie) and a real event in that person's life (Ms. Christie did take the Orient Express in the fall of 1928) and weaves a magical, enthralling and thoroughly engrossing story from that.
In this fictional take, Agatha, in the wake of her very recent ex-husband's upcoming remarriage to his mistress, is taking an adventure aboard the Orient Express disguised as Mary Miller. She hopes to restore, rejuvenate and heal, as well as perhaps gather ideas for future novels. Like Katharine and Nancy, two ladies on board whom she meets and befriends, she is headed for Baghdad. Agatha hopes to meet up with adventure and mystery but finds more than she bargained for, as Katharine and Nancy have secrets of their own.
Ms. Ashford's writing is as smooth and satisfying as a nice cup of Earl Grey or Darjeeling. From the first page, I was drawn into the story and you will be too. The vivid descriptions of the Orient Express will have you very nearly feeling the rocking of the train and sound of the wheels on the tracks - - oh, to have been alive during that golden age of travel. To be sitting in that compartment with Agatha and Katharine, enjoying a fine cup or a tasty meal. This book almost puts you there.
Equally as strong are Ms. Ashford's descriptions of Venice, Turkey, Istanbul, Baghdad and Ur - - the various places that Agatha visits. Prior to reading The Woman on the Orient Express, I had little interest in Turkey, Istanbul or Baghdad but having just finished the novel, it certainly has lit a travel bug in me.
Fans of Agatha Christie's will find a variety of Easter eggs sprinkled liberally throughout the book. Agatha does mention Hercule Poirot (and his little gray cells) in the course of the novel and obviously her eventual work Murder on the Orient Express comes to mind but you will also see flashes of Murder in Mesopotamia, The Mystery of the Blue Train, and the future journeys of Poirot.
The heart of the book is Agatha herself. She is a wonderful heroine and protagonist. I found it fascinating to see her as a thirty-six year old woman rather than the older, refined woman we've all see on book jackets. She's also flawed and, in the beginning of The Woman on the Orient Express, still pained over the end of her marriage and the special sting her husband marrying his mistress brings. Her steely backbone will rise soon enough, along with her creativity, and capacity for love, and it's wonderful to read.
Agatha's traveling companions, Katharine and Nancy, join to make for an enchanting yet very different trio. I was utterly diverted in flipping the pages to find out what secrets both these ladies were guarding as well as how Agatha's journey would end. The Woman on the Orient Express, while plump with characters, is truly centered around women, strong women, and it's nice to read and see.
I can't recommend this book enough. It was not only an enjoyable read for mystery and/or Agatha Christie fans but also for fans of historical fiction. It's so good, in fact, that I wouldn't hesitate to claim it as one of the best books I've read this year.
The Woman on the Orient Express is available at major booksellers, libraries and on Audible.
FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book with my own funds. I was neither paid nor compensated in any fashion for this review.