Friday, December 01, 2006

The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie by Andrew Eames

Late in 2002, as the forces of war gathered around Iraq, Andrew Eames set off on a literary and spiritual adventure. After having accidentally crossed Agatha Christie's historical path on a previous trip to the Middle East, Eames read about the mystery writer's annual trips with her second husband to archeological digs at Nimrud and other locations, and he planned his own journey, mostly by train, from the suburbs of London to ancient Babylonian and Assyrian cities in Iraq. The 8:55 to Baghdad is his report on the trip.

Riding on the restored portion of the Orient Express was the easy part of the trip. Eames had to find other trains to cross the Balkan countries, Turkey, and Syria. Along the way he discovered some Christie shrines, locations that she used in her stories, and books translated into many languages. He also learned as much about post-communist Europe and the political landscape of Turkey as he did about the unconventional mystery writer.

Eames' own story becomes particularly interesting as he crosses into Iraq with a tour group that he compares to the characters in Christie's mystery Nemesis. At the border, after putting all their money into envelopes that are taken into another room and handing over all their cameras for inspection, the travelers are required to take $50 AIDS screening tests administered by a man who looks like the dentist in the movie Marathon Man. After drawing blood, the man holds the vials up to a light and does not even bother labeling them.

Though some other tense episodes follow, Eames states that most Iraqis welcome the group of Americans and Europeans into their cities and villages. The author does find more Christie footprints in the outskirts of the country.

Travel adventure readers and mystery fans will enjoy The 8:55 to Baghdad.

Eames, Andrew. The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie. Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2005. ISBN 158567673x

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