BOOK: "The 8:55 to Baghdad," by Andrew Eames (Overlook Press, $24.95)
TARGET AUDIENCE: Fans of Agatha Christie mysteries, or trains, or archaeology, or. . . .
In 1928, Agatha Christie -- just divorced and at loose ends -- did something remarkable: She went from Sunningdale, England, to Baghdad alone. In 2002, British writer Andrew Eames replicated her trip, in order to solve a mystery: not a whodunit, but a "whydunit, and how."
Had Eames left it at that, he likely would have produced a satisfactory book. But he seamlessly weaves together enough material for at least four engaging books: the journey of the writer (who found in Iraq not only self-respect but love, when she met archaeologist Max Mallowan, who became her second husband); the history of the Orient Express and legendary Middle Eastern trains; rambles amid Mesopotamian ruins (Mallowan's preoccupation); and Eames's own adventures aboard trains of varying decrepitude, in hotels of faded grandeur, and in cafes filled with characters Christie might have envied. Dame Agatha disappears from the text for long stretches, and you sometimes wonder if she was just Eames's excuse for traveling. But travel is, as one of his hosts insists, "the cure for all ignorance."
-- Jerry V. Haines