“The Christmas Train” is the first of four books I’ve bought to try and read myself into the Christmas spirit. It didn’t go so well.
The start of the book was so sickly sweet, I thought it might raise my blood sugar enough to push me over into type two diabetes. I persisted because it’s a Christmas book and a certain amount of schmaltz was to be expected and I hoped things would get better when the book got into its stride.
The book never got into its stride. It stumbled along from scene to scene, clumsily structured and underwritten.
David Baldacci seemed to be trying to do some kind of homage to Mark Twain but ended up simply emphasizing the gap between Twain’s storytelling ability and his own.
I could have forgiven the cardboard characters in the supporting cast and the inept attempts at some kind of magical realism, and the over-long info-dumps and pro-Amtrack propaganda that sat in this under-cooked Christmas Pudding of a book, as indigestible as a sixpence, if only the main character, Tom Langdon had been worth caring about. Instead, I got an implausible, inconsistent, cypher of a man who, it seemed to me, was a self-absorbed, immature, manipulative, prankster who didn’t seem up to the task of being the romantic lead.
The book is narrated by Tim Matheson. He did the dialogue reasonably well but the prose dragged him down with its mediocrity no matter how much seasonal cheer he tried to inject.
The only thing that made it worth trudging through the slush of this book for seven hours were the insights into the, to my European eyes, peculiar attitude of Americans to passenger trains. I use trains for long journeys all the time. These days, the high-speed, high-tech trains are a viable competitor to planes for many business trips, yet here they were presented as a dying anachronism. Still, given how bad the rest of the book was, I’m not sure I can rely on this information.
This was my first David Baldacci book. I assume, as the book cover declares him to be a “Number One International Bestselling Author”, they can’t all be this bad but my experience of “The Christmas Train” doesn’t encourage me to find out.