Allen. with 27 books to her credit, manages in her latest to keep the quality up, even if the inspiration--the Orient Express--wears a little thin by the time the caboose rolls along. Joanna James is the main character and chief passenger, aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express to do a photo essay for a travel magazine. She's recently lost her mother. Lily, a graceful but hermetic woman; been the victim of a fire started by a boyfriend, who was as careless of her as he was of his lighted cigarettes; overworked and come to feel lonely, and ambivalent about herself. Into this stage of her life enter two men, one her London literary agent, who sees her as a ""naughty schoolboy,"" the other a director who is struck by her resemblance to ""Louise Brooks as Lulu."" The journey on the VSOE and a slay in Venice give her a chance to sort things out, and to meet an assortment of needy souls--an aging lord and lady, an ailing Parisian nightclub owner. and a rambunctious American boy. Somehow, she supplies them all with just what they need--which does wonders for her self-image--and she's able to come away fortified enough to make her romantic choice, embracing the venerable locomotive, whispering into its steel sides, ""Thank you, Train."" Count on Allen to have done her homework: The Orient Express and photography details are manifold and impeccable. And the characters are the warm, larger-than-life types Allen has propelled through similar soapy turbulence. Perhaps not her best, but, still, hearty fare for fans.