The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford is a fictionalised account of what happened to Agatha Christie when her marriage ended.
Heartbroken by the dissolution of her marriage Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express under the guise of Mary Miller. On the train, she meets a cast of people each with their own secrets that they are running from or trying to hide.
Nancy Nelson, newlywed and married with another man’s child, is desperate to conceal the pregnancy. While becoming friends they hide their past from each other, but as they near Baghdad the parallel courses of their lives intersect. Katharine Keeling, a beautiful widow who is on the way to a dig in Mesopotamia to work on a dig invites Mary and Nancy to visit the dig at Ur.
This is an evocative and well-written book, which is sensitive to Christie as a woman and imagines During her trip she meets Max Mallowan an archaeologist and a romance begins to blossom.
I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan and I thoroughly enjoyed this book which imagined what happened at this pivotal point in her life. The author did a great job of seeding in elements that are common in Christie’s books which for me really brought it to life.
Excerpt from The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
Through the window she saw a flat expanse of water. A sign flashed by: “Lago di Garda.” Soon they would be in Venice. For some inexplicable reason, Hercule Poirot appeared in her mind’s eye as she gazed across the lake. What, she wondered, would her little Belgian detective do in a situation like this?
The answer came back in a flash. You must use the little gray cells.
Yes. Of course. But how, exactly? The irony of it didn’t escape her. There she was—sitting on a train that she had already decided would feature in one of her future novels—waiting for a figment of her imagination to tell her what to do. How is it, she thought, that one can create a character who is more intelligent, more observant, more perceptive than oneself?
She had intended to take coffee in the saloon after lunch to while away the time Katharine needed for her nap. But she decided to stay put for the time being. She wanted to see which way the girl went when she left the dining car. That would narrow down the location of her compartment, which would be a start.
She moved into the aisle seat and took out the compact she kept in her bag. By appearing to powder her nose, she was able to see the comings and goings behind her. She didn’t have long to wait. The girl stepped out from the table, then darted back to pick up her book, as if she had almost forgotten it. She had her back to Agatha, heading for the same portion of the train that Agatha and Katharine occupied.
There were only two wagon-lit carriages between the engine and the dining car: one was first class, the other second. Would Archie’s future bride be traveling first class? Agatha thought it unlikely. She had a strong suspicion that money—her money—was part of the reason he had stopped loving her in the way he once did: she had become a different person from the girl he had married—an independent woman with an income of her own.
It was time to put the second part of her plan into action. She asked to speak to the headwaiter, telling him that she thought she’d recognized a fellow passenger but was reluctant to approach her in case of embarrassment if she was mistaken.
“Which table was it, madame?” He spoke with a very slight accent, which might have been French or something else.
She pointed it out, and he went to his station at the other end of the carriage to consult a list. She hovered in the aisle, feeling like a criminal as he came toward her.
“The name is Ann Nelson, madame.” He smiled at Agatha inquiringly. She wondered if he could hear her heart thumping in her chest. Ann. That was not good enough. Because an Ann could still be a Nancy, couldn’t she? Agatha had nursed alongside a woman called Nancy in Torquay, and the letters she received had always borne the first initial A. It was one of those peculiar English habits, to christen a girl Ann and call her Nancy, just as all the boys called Jack were really Johns.