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The Christmas Train    by David Baldacci order for
Christmas Train
by David Baldacci
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The author of The Christmas Train is right in telling us that there is something special and intimate about train travel, especially on an extended trip such as he describes in this novel. Though I read it on a short (three hour) train ride in October, I noticed the effort that the conductor made to chat with passengers, and also how friendly we were to each other, much more so than when pulled into the frenetic pace of airline travel.

Tom Langdon, the protagonist, is a jaded investigative reporter, a Double Pulitzer winner who has retired from overseas coverage to take on lighter pieces like one on 'the wonders of compost'. Tom has been forced to take the train cross country to spend the holiday with his significant (bi-coastal) other in California, after a misunderstanding and an episode of airport rage have banned him from the skies. Tom plans to use the trip to do something his father long since requested, that is to write a story about rail travel from coast to coast. This was something that Mark Twain, a familial connection, had apparently intended but never completed.

Unexpectedly Tom encounters a long lost love on the train. After years together as partners in work and life, Eleanor Carter left Tom suddenly (and from his point of view unexpectedly) in Tel Aviv. They still obviously care for each other and the reader becomes anxious for them to resolve their differences. In addition to the romantic pattern, there are many other bright threads running through this holiday tapestry: a young Romeo and Juliet-like couple and a potential wedding on wheels; a charismatic thief in black who regularly rifles the sleeping compartments; a famous director who plans a movie, and a big-hearted, singing 'chief of on-board services' who also conducts events around her. There is even a Scrooge, who is taught a holiday lesson by a large boa constrictor.

Just as the reader is settling down to enjoy all the passengers' antics and looking forward to resolution of the romance and the mystery, a catastrophe leads Tom and Eleanor into danger, and all the passengers to a most unexpected Christmas Day. The Christmas Train is an enjoyable, easy read that goes down as smoothly as a creamy eggnog with just the right hint of spice. Mix yourself one and sip it as you warm yourself at the fire of this feel good holiday fare. I recommend The Christmas Train as a delightful read and a welcome gift for those who love books, trains and holidays.

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