Best selling author, David Baldacci, has penned an impressive list of novels (17, to date) mostly suspense driven thrillers.
At the moment, Wish You Well (see April 15 post) stands out as one of two exceptions to the norm. The Christmas Train (2002) is the other.
In answer to his father’s dying request, Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Tom Langdon, agrees to a leisurely 3,000 mile train ride across the U. S. during the Christmas season.
Preposterous, you might say!! Not so when the reader discovers that a branch of the Langdon family tree supports the illustrious Olivia, wife of Samuel Clemens.
Clemens, the prolific scribe better known as Mark Twain, completed the same journey researching all the way, but failed in his attempt to produce a printable account.
To complicate matters, an unfortunate security-screening incident at LaGuardia has grounded the globe-trotting Langdon, for the next two years
Finishing the transcontinental journey and subsequent article will not only fulfill his father’s wish but also enable Tom to meet up with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Leila, for a Christmas ski trip.
On the two-leg trip – Washington D.C. to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles- Langdon runs into a trainload of wacky passengers, energetic railroad employees and surprise, surprise, a former lover.
Coincidentally, screen writer Ellie Carter is also compiling background information for a possible film dealing with trains.
But the sudden appearance of girlfriend, Lelia Gibson, thwarts Tom’s plan to reignite his dormant love affair and pop the question.
But thrill writer, Baldacci, can’t resist spicing up a so-so plot with a little adventure. And that shot of adrenalin comes in the form of a catastrophic weather pattern producing a twin avalanche trapping both the train and its passengers in the Colorado mountains.
The experienced reader can easily predict the happy ending without too much difficulty, but who really cares. What’s wrong with a Christmas miracle anyway?
Reviewers preferred The Christmas Train for a December read over John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas. This blogger tends to agree.
A complete listing of Baldacci’s novels can be found at: www.davidbaldacci.com.
Book club discussion questions for The Christmas Train follow below:
1. The tease line at the end of chapters 2, 17, 22, 26, 27 28: Influenced me to turn the page? Annoyed me? Was an unnecessary gimmick for a talented writer?
2. For years, Tom blamed Eleanor for walking out on him; while she, in turn, cast doubt on his ability to grow up. Is Tom at fault for the breakup? Eleanor? Both?
3. Does the novel’s surprise ending cheapen the reconciliation of Tom and Ellie? Why or why not?
4. Max Powers boasted of his reputation as a great director. Which of the novel’s events were coincidental and which were orchestrated by Max and/or his assistant, Kristobal?
5. Discuss the techniques used by the author to foreshadow the catastrophic avalanche.
6. While boarding the train, Tom visualized the movie classic North by Northwest with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. How did Langdon’s rail experience differ from the one portrayed by famed director Alfred Hitchcock?
7. With which of Baldacci’s memorable characters would you like to spend more time? Which would you like to avoid entirely? Why?
8. Discuss the role played by Paul Kelly, the make-believe priest and accomplished thief.
9. Point out the similarities and differences between main character, Tom Langdon, and the celebrated Mark Twain.
10. After reading The Christmas Train, would you opt for the rails instead of the sky for your next vacation transportation? Why or Why not?
11. Baldacci levels some strong criticism at the federal government and the future of railroad travel. Agree? Disagree?
Both the church and subdivision book clubs have chosen The Christmas Train for holiday reading.