English journalist and travel author Eames sets off on an ambitious, good-natured, quirkily informative journey on the path of the legendary Orient Express.
Eames follows the route that Agatha Christie took (in 1928, at age 38) when, newly divorced and already a best-selling author, she made her way solo from her dreaded marital home of Sunningdale, outside of London, via train to Baghdad, where she met the younger man who would become her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan. Leaving from Victoria Station, Eames travels on several modern reincarnations of the swanky old trains, including the ultra luxurious Venice-Simplon Orient Express, the longest passenger train in Europe. His delightfully entertaining quest spreads out over many weeks as he changes trains in Venice, then proceeds to Trieste, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus and, by bus, to Baghdad. He is personable and open to meeting all kinds of people, though also not above poking gentle fun at them. He accepts invitations wherever he goes, and, as the result of one such in Ljubljana, meets with an elderly journalist who interviewed Christie decades ago in the lake town of Bohinj, which Christie termed “too beautiful for murder.” While at the famous old Baron Hotel in Aleppo, where Christie and Max used to stay between digs in the Syrian desert, Eames has tea with the owner’s haughty mother, Mrs. Masloumians, who socialized warily with the reclusive couple and notes now that the fictional Poirot was a dead wringer for husband Max. In recounting his own journey (on an increasingly faltering rail system), Eames also incorporates details of Christie’s life and work, including visits to some of the digs she and Max worked on, such as those at Nineveh and Nimrud. At his own peril, he even gets to Ur, where the couple first met, now the middle of a NATO target zone.
A loquacious, naïve, winning literary treat.