==Synopsis of the book:==
Tom Langdon is an unhappy man. After years as a successful journalist covering many exciting and dangerous world stories, he has ended up writing for a women's magazine. However he decides because of his flight ban he will take the train for the trip across America from Washington to Los Angeles.
This will be no ordinary journey as it is the week before Christmas and most of the passengers are on their way to way to see loved ones to enjoy the holiday with them. Tom for his part is going to spend his holiday with his girlfriend Leila Gibson and they will go skiing. However she has no flight ban and can take the quicker route.
He decides he will use this trip to hopefully meet some fascinating fellow travellers, hear their stories and write a piece about the train. What he doesn't expect is this journey will be the biggest adventure of his life. As a face from his past is also following the same route as him and this meeting will churn up emotions that he thought were behind him, as he hopes to make it safely to LA for Christmas.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
Overall this novel gets the thumbs up from me. It certainly was not what I expected and although I was initially disappointed at the end of the day this book made a nice change for me. By this I mean I originally thought this was a crime story so I kept expecting someone to be murdered. It was only when I was 2/3rds of the way through I realised my mistake and enjoyed the exciting adventure instead.
The key elements that I enjoyed were mainly to do with the very interesting, unusual and unexpected elements within the story. At no time did I know what was going to happen next, but it was usually out of the blue and exciting. I think that and the excellent characters the author created will stick in my mind if I ever have to tell anyone about it.
David Baldacci is not an author who I am familiar or have read before. So from that perspective I had no illusions or expectations when I picked up this book. Although I had my concerns as he is an American and I have always struggled with authors from that country. I think a mixture of the different culture, ideology and huge space, plus it is a country I have never visited so I cannot relate usually to what they are telling me, consequently I have never enjoyed their writers.
I think it was the cover of the book that initially grabbed my attention. Firstly, I liked the title of the book; it conjured up all manner of possibilities, with people travelling in the period leading up to Christmas. Secondly, there was a line across the front that said, ' but he'll need a miracle to get there', this sounded full of intrigue and I was keen to understand what he was to come up against.
For me as I think for most of us the idea of a long train journey sounds exciting. Maybe it is because we live on a small island and day's travel on a train just isn't possible. Or it could be the romantic associations we have with this form of travel. For me I always think of films like ' Murder on the Orient Express' and it takes me back to a time of discovery and change. Plus I like the idea of sharing a given space of time and space with people who are strangers to you so you need to try and form a kind of relationship with them.
I found the story very easy to get into, probably in part to the reasons above but also because the author made the lead character interesting in a usual situation. The writing style was relaxed and I found it very easy to read. It focused on Tom initially and the author gave the reader great insight into him and his life, but not only that but that romantic connotations he associated with this form of travel too.
As the story developed we were introduced to a variety of unusual and diverse characters. These all had stories to tell and where interesting in there own right. At this point I was waiting for a murder!! So I was looking very closely at all of them for possible clues in their actions and what they said. Only to be completely wrong as it was not that kind of book.
What I found surprising was how friendly and helpful all those on the train where. But then I suppose in those circumstances you do need to get along with those sharing the same space. At this point the author brought in a significant person from Tom's past, which changed his relaxed and enjoyable trip. It was the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons, which led him to retrace his steps and what had happened to him many years before.
There was also a robbery just after this on the train. Which added an unexpected twist (especially as I was still waiting for a murder). As a result there was a lot of conjecture between Tom and his fellow passengers about who could have done this. It added a different side to the story, as I was already curious at what would develop next between Ton and the face from his past.
Although I really was enjoying the story and thought it was well thought out and interesting, I did find it a bit obvious and simplistic when dealing with love and romance. The author put together several single people and in every case they seemed to immediately hit it off. I thought this really lacked insight into people's characters and was far too easy. It annoyed me, as here was another talented male author who has no idea about how to write about attraction, romance and people's feeling of love.
While I hate to have a downer on my gender, I have noticed that male authors very often lack the sensitivity to write interesting, logical and believably about affairs of the heart. Yes they can write great well-structured stories but when it comes to love they are sadly lacking. For me this is an area where female authors come into their own and demonstrate how complex relationships and attraction is and they write clearly and sensitively about it.
Enough of my ramblings!! At this point in the story I thought I could see most of what was going to happen especially with the relationships. The book was just over halfway through and I felt quite disillusioned by it. Instead of this deep complex story I was expecting I was getting a more superficial story about relationships.
However my disappointment was short lived as the real story got into its stride and it became exciting and for the first time elements of danger and the unknown where thrown into the story. Which made me wonder why on earth have all this build up? It would have been so much better to bring it in earlier as from here to pace increased markedly with many good twists to enjoy.
I really enjoyed this part and also the role all the key characters played leading up to the thrilling last few chapters. Particularly for me it was the unexpected I enjoyed most. With some amazing twists and answers that left me both shocked and surprised. These really transferred my feeling on the book from a good to a very good one as I really didn't seem them coming and they made sense at the end of the day.
Tom Langdon was the stories main character and a lot but not all was written from his perspective. I found him a very likable character, he was easy to relate to and although you could see he was single-minded he still had a good heart for helping others. I enjoyed the way he dealt with and reacted to the face from his past, it was quite amusing.
I think all the other characters where without exception both very interesting and rich in their diversities. There interaction with each other was superb and I thought the author went to great lengths to make them all fascinating so that you always wanted to know more about them and their backgrounds.
My favourite was Agnes Joe who Tom was also very keen to learn all about. As he suspected of her of being responsible for the robbery. She was a key character, but then disappeared for ages from the story. That for me was a great shame and she only re-appeared in the last quarter. She was a well thought out and multi-dimensional lady who was always up to something unusual.
I did think although the book had a few amusing moments the author could have injected more humour into it. For me it was more of a thought-provoking story that turned out to be full of surprises and suspense. With some well-concealed mystery that I really didn't see coming at all. Indeed I did not pick up on until there were being explained.
The story was always well written putting aside the issue of personal relationships. I liked the way this intelligent author mind work. I thought we were headed in one obvious direction when in reality where were headed in another with a lot more thought behind it.
Although comparatively short this book told a well throughout and structured adventure. Yes I would have liked it to have started a little sooner than it did and probably continue longer than it did, but it was still good and exciting for the reader.
At the end of the story the author had a long list of acknowledgements. I would have much preferred if he had given the reader an epilogue instead as I really felt attached to some of the excellent characters in the story and I would have liked to know what happened to them next.
In the course of my research for this review I found he had a really good, professional and interesting web site. (Please see below)
For my money this was well worth a read. I really enjoyed the unexpected, which is often what I found with this story. He put together an exciting adventure that although was slow to start when it did it was excellent. The only real problem I had was the author's very simplistic view on relationships. I feel having read and enjoyed this novel that I must firstly try another one of his books and secondly maybe be a little more open-minded and try harder to embrace the cultural differences between our two countries.
Price: £4.74 (New at Amazon)
Publisher: Pan books (Nov 2004)
About the author: www.davidbaldacci.com
Year of publication: 2002
@CPTDANIELS May 2010