She’s Got a Ticket to Ride*

TravelDisastersLots of people travel during the holidays. It can be lovely to get the chance to see friends and loved ones you haven’t seen for a long time, so a lot of people look forward to it. But as we all know, travel can be unpleasant too. Long lines, airline hassles, delays and so on can all ruin a trip, or at least make it both exhausting and frustrating.

It’s no different in crime fiction. As any crime fiction fan can tell you, just because you have a ticket or a working car doesn’t mean the trip will go well. Just think about these examples…

In John Alexander Graham’s Something in the Air, Columbia University Professor of Law Jake Landau is on a flight from Boston to New York. With him is his friend and personal attorney Martin Ross. The two were in Boston negotiating with the lawyer of Landau’s ex-wife, and are now ready to return home. Tragically a bomb goes off during the flight, and Ross is killed. Landau wants to know how it happened and who’s responsible, but no-one in authority is willing to give hiim any information. So he begins to ask his own questions. Landau finds that the bombing is connected to a powerful and far-reaching drugs ring, and that they now have him in their sights.

Well, you may be thinking, with today’s security procedures, bombs are a lot less likely on planes than they were. Well, that’s true enough, but it doesn’t mean a flight can’t be disastrous. Just ask Joanna Lindsay, whom we meet in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. She and her partner Alistair Robertson are on their way from Scotland, where Joanna’s lived all her life, to Alistair’s home near Melbourne. With them is their nine-week-old son Noah. As anyone who’s ever taken a flight with an infant can imagine, the flight is awful. Noah is what people sometimes call ‘a difficult baby’ to begin with, and the flight brings out the worst in him. He cries more or less non-stop. Joanna is worn out and frustrated and from her perspective, Alistair’s not doing much to help. Of course, the other passengers are none too happy about the screaming baby, and to them, it doesn’t seem that either parent is doing much to remedy the situation. Some offer ‘helpful’ advice; some are just rude. All in all, it’s a horrible flight for everyone and Joanna and Alistair are just relieved when it’s over. What they don’t know is that they’ll soon be plunged into a greater nightmare once they land and Noah goes missing…

So, perhaps planes are not the best idea. Well, there’s always going by train, right? Wrong. Consider Agatha Christie’s work. Fans will know that in Murder on the Orient Express, wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed on the second night of a three-day journey on the world-fanous Orient Express. Hercule Poirot is on the same trip, and agrees to investigate. The only possible suspects are those who were in the same carriage, so at least the pool of possible killers is limited. But that doesn’t mean the case is easy. And as if that weren’t enough, a severe snowstorm strands the train, making it impossible for anyone to leave it. Not a happy trip. And that’s only one of Christie’s ‘murder en route‘ mysteries! There are several others (I know, I know, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train).

Speaking of trains, Anne Holt’s 1222 features a group of people who are on a train from Oslo to Bergen. The train crashes, killing the conductor and stranding the passengers. They are eventually rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. But that’s only the beginning of their problems. One of the passengers is murdered. Another, police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen, wants nothing more than to be left alone. But she is reluctantly drawn into the case. Then there’s another murder. And another. It’s clear that Wilhelmsen is up against someone very dangerous. She’s going to have to find the killer before any of the other passengers dies.

Right, then. Trains are not as safe as you might think. Well, one can always drive, right? Not so fast. Consider what happens in A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. Todd Gilbert is a successful Chicago developer who’s had a twenty-year relationship with psychologist Jodi Brett. They’ve had their rough times, but they’ve stayed together and built a strong partnership, or so it seems. Then Todd falls in love with college student Natasha Kovacs. It doesn’t help matters that she’s the daughter of his business partner Dean Kovacs. And the stress only gets greater when Natasha tells Todd she is pregnant with his baby. She wants marriage and a family and at first, that’s what Todd tells her he wants too. But their new relationship doesn’t work out the way either had planned. Then one terrible day, Todd is killed in a drive-by shooting. At first it looks like a carjacking gone horribly wrong. But soon it comes out that the shooters were paid. Now the police have to find out which of several suspects hired them.

Of course, a drive doesn’t have to be fatal to be miserable. Just ask Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest. In Gunshot Road, she begins her new job as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO). Her first assignment is to travel with two colleagues and her temporary boss Bruce Cockburn from Bluebush to Green Swamp Well. There’s been a murder there, and the police need to investigate. It’s a long, hot ride that’s made no better when Emily spots a car that seems to be in trouble. At her insistence, the team stops to investigate. Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly endear her to her teammates. By the time they’re ready to get back on the road, it’s already begun to get very hot, with the temperature expected to rise even more throughout the day. Five minutes after they start the car, the air conditioning breaks down. And there’s still a long way to go to Green Swamp Well. The trip doesn’t end well either. At first, it looks as though the victim, a prospector/geologist named Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins, was killed as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Emily isn’t so sure. Her investigation leads her into all sorts of trouble…

You see? All sorts of travel can be very risky. So do be careful as you plan your trip…

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Anne Holt, Helen Fitzgerald, John Alexander Graham

28 responses to “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride*

  1. The hazards of travel are not necessarily new, Margot. Consider Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1909 classic train mystery, The Man in Lower Ten. Our narrator, a lawyer named Lawrence Blakely, sets out by train from Washington to Pittsburgh to take a deposition in a forgery case. He has some powerful evidence for the case along with him. After taking the deposition, he gets on a train to return home, and he is assigned to the berth numbered “lower ten” in the Pullman car. But Blakely finds.someone else is sleeping there, so he moves – unhappily – to another berth. When he wakes up, however, he finds that all his papers including the evidence (and his clothes as well) have been stolen – and the man who had been sleeping in lower ten has been murdered. And then the train is wrecked in a disastrous crash which kills all but a handful of people – among whom, of course, is our narrator. And that’s only the beginning…

  2. Disaster can happen no matter how you chose to travel, but in the end we gain so much that we are willing to take the risk. Have a lovely evening! 🙂

  3. tracybham

    I have a problem with movies about problems with airplane flights… because I am afraid to fly. I don’t know if I have ever read a book about similar airline problems, and can’t decide if it would be better or worse. Moving on to trains… I love books that have trains and train trips in them.

    • Tracy – Fear of flying is one of the more common fears that people have, I think, so I’m not surprised that flying isn’t your thing. And I think the visual media that film is just accentuates the suspense. About trains? I like books with train travel in them too. There’s something about going by train that’s, dare I say it, romantic. Certainly train travel is a classic setup for a story.

  4. Clarissa Draper

    One of my favorite psychological thrillers/mysteries is Strangers On A Train where a chance encounter can lead to a lot of problems.

    • I’m very glad you mentioned that one, Clarissa! It’s a suspense classic and of course it’s a perfect example of exactly what I had in mind with this post. Thanks for filling in that gap.

  5. The Cry is an amazing book and Fitzgerald does brilliantly at portraying that angst at travelling with a crying baby in a tiny metal tube at a great height where no one can get off. Brilliant scenes.

  6. I found The Cry almost unbearably realistic on that flight with Joanna’s point of view of a trip with a fractious baby and all the accompanying emotions painful to read.

  7. Train travel still fills me with possibility and enchantment – and sometimes danger. The Lady Vanishes comes to mind, as well as Murder on the Orient Express, of course, Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train and Emile Zola’s La Bete Humaine. My parents lived within walking distance of the main railway station and I could hear the train whistles at night, which always reminded me of faraway places and romantic destinations.

    • Marina Sofia – Oh, those are such wonderful ‘train travel’ stories aren’t they? I’m very glad you mentioned them. And I know what you mean about living near a railway station. The nearest one for my town is about 10k from where I live, so I can’t hear trains at night. But whenever I pass the station (or better yet, am at it for a train), I do feel that sense of excitement and possibilities…

  8. LOL — I’ve taken that train from Oslo to Bergen. I’m glad I hadn’t read 1222 yet.

  9. Patti Abbott

    Travel, ugh. They have changed out flights to San Diego three times now.

  10. I love 1222. I read it on a stormy night and it was perfect reading. I’m just about to read ‘The Lion’s Mouth’, the latest of Holt’s books to be published here.

    • Sarah – Oh, I agree that 1222 is a terrific book; and yes, it’s perfect for one of those stormy nights. I hope you’ll enjoy The Lion’s Mouth. I’ve heard it’s good.

  11. kathy d.

    i have to read the Holt book before The Lion’s Mouth, am caught up till that point.
    1222 was good, though some of the characters were creeps. A locked room mystery inside a train within a blizzard. Fun, a good setting for a murder investigation.

    • Kathy – It’s true that not all of the characters in 1222 are exactly pleasant people… Still, I agree that it’s a good book. And yes, it’s got a great context for a mystery.

  12. Josephine Tey’s The Singing Sands has Inspector Grant on the overnight sleeper from London to Scotland – so is there going to be a body on the train too? I think a sleeper train is one of my favourite settings for any kind of story, it always seems a gateway to adventure. The same train features in one of John Dickson Carr’s books too.

    • Moira – Good call on the Tey. That’s a perfect example of the way sleeper trains can add to a mystery’s atmosphere. And you’ve put me in mind of Tey’s The Man in the Queue, which also includes an interesting train ride. There is just something about a train…

  13. kathy d.

    Well, there are ocean liners and cruise ships. But I hear people can “accidentally” fall overboard, even in real life.
    So, there is walking. Hitchhiking can be dangerous and it can be difficult to walk from here to Paris, Copenhagen or Stockholm!
    So, I guess we had better all stay home, but then again, more accidents happen in the home. So, I guess if one is destined to be killed off, it will happen. But a good writer can make it interesting, and usually, the perpetrator is caught.

    • Kathy – Now, that’s a very well-taken point about the dangers of travel, no matter which form you might take. As you say, ships, trains, and so on can all be risky. And so can walking. That’s why hitchhiking can be so dangerous. But then, staying at home has its risks too… You’re right that however a fictional victim is killed, a skilled author can make it interesting.

  14. Katy McCoy

    I just finished reading Something in the Air. I was surprised when I got it from our Library’s Linked in program, that it was published in 1970. It was interesting to go back to the days of looking for phone booths and lots of running around in taxis instead of using cell phones but the story was not dated and it was a good read. In these days of “don’t get out of your seat unless you can see that the bathroom is available”, I’d forgotten about hanging around the back of the plane just to stretch your legs or to wait for a turn. But this certainly shows the hazards of doing so. On the other hand, it would have been worse if he’s stayed in his seat…..

    • Katy – Oh, I’m so glad you had a chance to read that book. I agree completely that it gives a terrific sense of what life was like in the days before today’s security measures, etc.. I think you’re right though that the story itself isn’t dated. It still feels relevant – or does to me. And yes, staying in his seat would have been far worse…

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