Murder on the Christmas Express

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict was not the thriller I had hoped it would be. After giving Christmas murders a go for the first time last year with A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, when I saw this book come over the returns desk I decided to give it a chance. Unfortunately the setting–a derailed train in the middle of a snowstorm with the passengers getting knocked off one by one–didn’t incite my interest. The novel got off to a disappointing start in that the prologue gave me no desire to continue reading further. If a murder mystery can’t grab your attention from the first page, then why bother reading it? I always give the book a chance once I start, yet this short novel, at only 241 pages, still took me six days to read.

Benedict employed the ugly interdental third-person plural pronoun as a singular, which jarred the eye and ruined the flow of the narrative, especially when she wasn’t consistent. For example, the following sentence made no sense with the pronoun switching:

“Grant seemed to grow taller. His shoulders shifted in their shirt. He took out his vape cigar and took a drag.”

So what were Grant’s pronouns? Benedict switched them often while referring to the same person which forced me to reread passages, not realizing if all of a sudden she was talking to a group or to a single person.

I enjoyed the author’s flair for description, as in her assessment of the contents of a cheese board:

“Pale hunks of Orkney and Arran cheddars hunkered like standing stones on the slate. A Hebridean Brie looked pleasingly squidgy, and the Mull of Kintyre blue was as pale and vein-threaded as Roz’s thighs.”

The train had derailed in the Scottish Highlands, with the pyramidal Beinn Dòrain looming in the background. However, during a snowstorm, not even the mountain was visible:

“The snow had upped its game, and a blizzard now raged. Beinn Dòrain was hardly visible. Roz could feel its presence though, and drew strength from its solidity and longevity. It was always there, hearing everything, overseeing all, like the ultimate judge in a white wig of snow.”

So those were the novel’s good parts. The first murder (spoiler alert: it’s a death which was at first suspected of being a murder) was interesting enough, but the motives for the second and third deaths (i.e., the first and second murders) were weak. I found no logic which impelled the murderer to act. The passengers–limited to eighteen–didn’t even seem to care that three among them had died. They knew that no one had perished in the derailment, so the deaths were all unnatural. Benedict could have created a sense of overhanging suspicion, where the passengers, whether they knew each other or not, suddenly developed a paranoia about everyone else. All we got were vapid social media influencers who didn’t even seem to care that three of their friends had perished, and a family with four children who were as calm as could be, in spite of a murderer or murderers in their midst. If the characters in a murder mystery don’t seem to care about the events surrounding their derailed death train, then how do you expect the readers to?

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