Orient Express, Graham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published as Stamboul Train in 1932).
Summary: Seven people on a train between Ostend and Constantinople intersect in various ways, making choices about the kind of people they will be.
Seven people on a train from Ostend to Constantinople. Mabel Warren is a hack reporter who drinks too much and is on a routine assignment when she recognizes that Richard John, a school master is actually Dr. Czinner, a dissident returning to his native country to hopefully lead an uprising, the story of Mabel’s career. Warren is accompanied by her assistant who is also her lover, Janet Pardoe, enroute to visit a relative, and secretly hoping for a different life. Myatt is a successful young Jewish businessman, an importer of dates, among other things. Coral Musker is an worn out dancer with a heart condition, attended by Richard John, exposing him as a doctor. When she collapses, she is given Myatt’s berth because she couldn’t afford her own, obligating her in the way women often have been obligated to men, which Myatt doesn’t refuse, even though he is drawn more to Janet Pardoe.
Two others play lesser parts. Mr. Savory is a popular writer, perhaps collecting material and also interested in Janet. Finally, joining them in Vienna is an elusive thief, Josef Grünlich escaping a murder charge when a safe-cracking job went south. Meanwhile, Mabel Warren, victim of another thief in Vienna is not able to reboard the train. Because Czinner refused to compromise his plans to save being exposed, Mabel wires the story to her paper, setting up Czinner’s apprehension. Coral and Josef Grünlich get caught up in it.
What is striking is the contrast between one character shaped by noble ideals and six others who live by looking out for number one. The others have their chances but basically are survivors like the great mass of us. There is also the element of a journey where the constraints of ordinary life, and relational commitments are in flux, particularly evident with Mabel and Janet, and Myatt and Coral.
This is early Graham Greene. It is said he wrote this to make a bit of money. But we can already see one of the characteristic elements of Greene’s work–characters in a liminal place and how they will respond. This lacked the focus and weight of later works, but nevertheless held your interest, wanting to see what the end of the journey held for each.