Prather’s Pick: A novel with a train setting
May 16, 2017
My husband Lyle brought this week's novel to my attention. "The Christmas Train" was written by David Baldacci, author of an impressive number of bestselling mystery thrillers. This novel is one of his first books (copyright 2002). Lyle liked the book a lot, and so do I. It has everything — interesting characters, humor and a heartwarming plot.
The leading character is Tom Langdon, a journalist who has traveled the globe as a war correspondent. During his years abroad, he was imprisoned twice by terrorist groups. He witnessed famines and pestilence, and other horrific situations, all the time thinking that his stories would make a difference to humanity, but nothing changed.
So Tom began writing lighter stories about beauty pageants, antiques and wines. However, nothing seemed to fill up the hole in his heart.
Tom's former girlfriend Eleanor was also a writer. The two of them worked together when he traveled abroad. One day she left. Tom has never been sure why. Now Tom has a relationship with Lelia Gibson, an aspiring actress who does voiceover work in children's television. He's planning to fly from Washington DC to LA to be with her for Christmas.
As the novel begins, Tom is at the airport. He has been used to flying all over the place, but this time there is a "misunderstanding" (which is rather humorous) at airport security. As a result, Tom is banned from flying in the continental US for the next two years and is instructed to take an anger management class.
In the end, Tom decides to take the train. It will be a working trip. He will collect information and write a story about his time on the Christmas train. He will also be fulfilling his late father's request.
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It seems that Tom Langdon is one of the Elmira, New York Langdons. Olivia Langdon married Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who once took a transcontinental trip by railroad over the Christmas season and was supposed to write a story about it, but he never did. Tom's father asked Tom to write a similar story.
Throughout the novel there is reference to Mark Twain's books and things he said. It is an interesting approach to the plot.
The trip to LA involves travel on two trains — first the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then the Southwest Chief for the remainder of the trip.
The reader is in for a treat as Tom meets memorable and sometimes eccentric characters, like Agnes Joe who has ridden the train for 10 years and calls everyone "honeypie."
There's Father Paul Kelly; Gordon Merryweather, "King of the Classaction Suit"; Julie and Steve who will get married on the train; and Regina, Roxanne, and Tyrone who work on the trains. And there are lots more characters such as Max Powers, a film director, who is planning a film about the train. Surprise, surprise for Tom — the writer of the screenplay is none other than his ex-girlfriend Eleanor.
That's not all. Tom's current girlfriend Lelia boards the Southwest Chief!
There are lots of surprises along the way, like a boa constrictor on the loose. Then somebody starts stealing items from the passengers, and on the second leg of the trip, when the train is climbing Raton Pass in southeastern Colorado, it is hit by an avalanche. The train is stranded.
Lyle and I have enjoyed discussing possible themes for the book. One thing is for sure, it's a good-feeling book, and I could never have guessed its ending. I'm going to renew the book so that I can read it again.
"The Christmas Train" was published by Warner Books. The book I reviewed is in hardcover. It is available at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries.
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