• Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Lindsay Jayne Ashford was born and raised in Wolverhampton, England in 1959. She is the first woman to graduate from Queens College Cambridge with a masters degree in criminology. Ashford worked as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist writing in several newspapers and magazines. She took a crime-writing course in 1996 organised by Arvon Foundation.

Ashford has written several books, The Woman On The Orient Express, published in 2016, is her latest. Presently she lives between the village of Chawton in Hampshire and on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth.

The story of The Woman On The Orient Express is set in 1928. Agatha Christie, who is approaching her forties, is a famous novelist of murder mysteries, thrillers, crime fiction and detective stories. She is feeling forsaken and dispirited and in need of a holiday after her eventful, painful divorce from her deceitful husband, Archibald Christie.

Agatha meets a military man at a dinner party in Mayfair, London, who was stationed in Iraq. Conversing with him about news in the papers concerning the discoveries made at Ur in Mesopotamia by Leonard Woolley, she is actively encouraged by this man to visit the archaeological dig in progress in Iraq. Agatha, who has always been attracted to archaeology, decides to travel by the Orient Express train to the Middle East.

Her plan is to travel somewhere faraway where she is unknown and live for a while in seclusion to escape London society gossip as well as to avoid her husband’s upcoming wedding to Nancy Neele, the young woman Archibald Christie abandoned her for after thirteen years of marriage. In 1928 Agatha secretly boards the Orient Express train travelling in disguise under her lesser-known maiden name, Mary Miller.

In her double berth compartment on the sleeper train, Agatha makes acquaintance with the self-confident, attractive blond widow, Katharine Keeling, a commercial artist who makes drawings of the archaeological finds and who is returning to her work at the dig in Ur, the ancient city-state in Mesopotamia. Soon after her arrival, Katharine is to marry Leonard Woolley, the eminent archaeologist in charge of the dig.

The second lady Agatha becomes friends with on the train is the unhappily newly-married, young, good-looking, delicate, Nancy Nelson. Nancy is escaping from her unfaithful husband and is hoping to be joined by her lover in Baghdad to plan their future life together. Each one of the three ladies is hoping to turn the page and start a new life and each of them has a hidden secret.

The concealed secrets are gradually revealed as the story unfolds, due to the characters feeling an affinity and loyalty for each other owing to their shared sufferings. Nevertheless, their secrets are not disclosed to outsiders and are kept among themselves.

In her story Ashford touches upon marriages, divorces, infidelity and deceptions that her three female characters experience. The bitterness and deceitfulness in married life are referred to by the main character: “Marriage is always a leap into the unknown, even if you think you know the other person inside out. It works for some people. But I doubt there are many truly happy marriages”. “The trouble is people always think it must be your fault when men have had enough of you. That you didn’t try hard enough”.

Agatha took the Orient Express train which inspired her to write her famous detective novel: “Murder On The Orient Express” and later “Murder in Mesopotamia”, which sequentially inspired Ashford’s novel title: The Woman On The Orient Express, the woman being Agatha Christie herself.
A very compelling story interlacing historical facts with fiction. The intriguing, suspenseful happenings are written in the Agatha Christie style, having her as the narrative of the chain of events. The protagonist claims at times that she is unable to solve the mysteries she encounters. She asserts not to be as intelligent or resourceful as her famous fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot: “How is it, she thought, that one can create a character who is more intelligent, more observant, more perceptive than oneself?”.

The author noticeably researched all the historical details about Agatha Christie’s life as well as her very mediatised divorce. An enjoyable read with an original, plausible storyline with well depicted mysterious characters and very colourful descriptions about life among middle eastern people.

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Category: Book Reviews
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