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 shift 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.
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I was a huge Agathe Christie fan as a teenager and in my early teens, and although I have not read much by the author since devouring all her books in my youth, this amazing woman still intrigues me. Therefore I was quite excited when the audiobook version of The Woman on the Orient Express popped up in my recommendations from Amazon earlier this month, hoping to find out more about the mystery still surrounding the author’s life.
Focusing on events that may have inspired Christie’s writing and lead to the meeting between the author and her soon-to-be husband Max Mallowan, the novel is mainly set on the Orient Express on its journey from London to Baghdad, and at the archaeological site at Ur. Christie’s friendship with Katherine Whooley is well documented in history, and in her novel, Ashford stages the first meeting between the two woman aboard the train. To complete the trio, Ashford also includes a third – fictional – character, Nancy Nelson, a young woman who flees England as she is carrying her married lover’s child. As the train journey progresses, the three women get to know each other and form a tentative friendship, which sees them all travelling to the archaeological site at Ur, where Katherine has been working.
I loved the historical details Ashford seamlessly slips into the story, like the mystery surrounding Agatha’s recent breakdown, or the speculations about Katherine’s medical issues that may have contributed to the suicide of her first husband. Nancy is the only character who is not based on an actual person from Christie’s real life, and I admit I struggled a bit accepting her into the fold. With Christie’s death still falling into my lifetime (she died in 1976, and yes, I am that old!), it is too current for me to accept these “alternative facts”, and I’m not sure if the blend of fact and fiction is really for me when it concerns the recent past. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the train journey to many exotic locations, staying true to an era in history where women were not as free to travel and forge their own path in life – which makes Christie all the more remarkable. The story inspired me to pick up an old copy of Christie’s autobiography, which I read in my early twenties and now want to revisit again. I will enjoy comparing the two stories (as I am sure that Christie may have also slipped a few fictional elements into her version of events – wouldn’t you, given the chance?).
All in all, The Woman on the Orient Express was a light, enjoyable story for my daily commute. Whilst I found some of the events in the last part of the story slightly predictable and differing a bit too much from historical facts for my liking, it put an interesting spin on a chapter in Christie’s life which saw her moving on from her broken marriage and finding new love. Justine Eyre provided a wonderful narration, which brought all characters and places to life for me.