Book Review: The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames

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The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1928, Agatha Christie, the world’s most widely read author, was a thirty-something single mother.  With her marriage to her first husband, Archie Christie, over, she decided to take a much-needed holiday; the Caribbean had been her intended destination, but a conversation at a dinner party with a couple who had just returned from Iraq changed her mind.  Five days later she was off on a completely different trajectory.

Merging literary biography with travel adventure, and ancient history with contemporary world events, Andrew Eames tells a riveting tale and reveals fascinating and little-known details en route in this exotic chapter in the life of Agatha Christie.  His own trip from London to Baghdad—a journey much more difficult to make in 2002 with the political unrest in the Middle East and the war in Iraq, than it was in 1928—becomes ineluctably intertwined with Agatha’s, and the people he meets could have stepped out of a mystery novel.

Picked up as an Audiobook from Audible, and read by the author, who does a decent job of it.

This book’s concept started out as a “let’s follow Agatha Christie’s journeys to the middle east by train” story, but morphed into part travelogue, part history lesson and part Christie autobiography.

Eames attempts to do a trip between England and Baghdad, previously done several times and almost completely by train by Agatha Christie (and much on the Orient Express). This book is the result of when Eames tries to recreate this trip. The Orient Express, as was, was shut down in the 1970s, and has been recreated in part by some willing investors who, as a labour of love, have gathered the remaining rolling stock and put on some level of service. Lack of rolling stock, multiple local and global wars, and shifting borders (and that England is no longer a regional strong man in the area) has meant that such a trip undertaken by a solo Englisher is no longer really possible.

However, Eames does as he can, describing his various adventures through Europe and the Middle-East, and some of the more interesting people he meets. He goes through what remains of Yugoslavia, and finds out how some people are coping 10 years after the war that split the country in three.

His attempts to reach Baghdad on a bus with a motley crew of Westerners is tense, where noone really knows who is who, the English continue to have a stiff upper lipped colonial approach to travel, the Americans can be dodgy and everyone is trying to guess who the CIA agent is. This part of the trip reflects the tension and conflicting views of the potentially coming war. Eames’ journey concluded on a bitter sweet note in Baghdad in 2003, with post-9/11 tensions running high and the Allied airplanes beginning to do bombing sorties in the skies.

At the end of the book is a !more straight! version of Christie’s trips in the Middle-East in her guise as the wife of an archaeologist and her continuing work as a worldwide known writer – several of her books, including “Death in Mesopotamia” and “Murder on the Orient Express” were written during her second marriage.

So a decently narrated audiobook, that manages to conjur up an exotic travel experience that is now faded with the passage of time and the vagaries of people’s attitude to others

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