last trainA decade ago, Paul Theroux’s best-selling Dark Star Safari chronicled his epic overland voyage from Cairo to Cape Town, providing an insider’s look at modern Africa. Now, with The Last Train to Zona Verde, he returns to discover how Africa and he have changed in the ensuing years. On this trip, Theroux is journeying through West Africa for the first time. From Cape Town, South Africa, to Namibia to Botswana, he covers nearly 2,500 miles before he is forced to give up what is to be his final foreign trip, a decision he chronicles in a delightfully curmudgeonly and unsparing chapter titled “What Am I Doing Here.”

Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers. (description from publisher)

With the last years’ worth of talk about passenger rail between here and Chicago, there is a vivid battle on our local papers’ comment pages between the “that would be nice” faction and the “they’re just trying to get re-elected, where will the money come from?” team.

Before taking a side, one might wish to peruse this fresh book by James McCommons, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.

This one isn’t gathering dust on our shelf.  People are using it no doubt to bolster their arguments.  That being said, how cool would it be for Cubs fans and the 75% of the University of Iowa students from Chicagoland? Or, nationally, anyone spending two hours riding the bus in Los Angeles for lack of infrastructure?

The Edge by Dick Francis is, as always, about horses, but this time the action takes place in Canada, instead of England.

Head of Security for the British Jockey Club, Tor Kelsey  travels to Canada for the Great Transcontinental Mystery  Race  Train. He works  undercover  as a waiter on the train so he can keep an eye one of the club’s Most Wanted  (an extortionist/horse owner they haven’t been able to catch red-handed,yet).

To add to the intrigue, there is a murder mystery group on the train – no one but Tor and his foe know that there is a real murderer on board.

Another railroad mystery is The Silk Train Murder by Sharon Rowse. A train that rushes silk from Vancouver to the east coast of Canada is the setting for a turn of the century romantic caper. Emily Turner is the liberated heroine who helps John Landsdowne Granville investigate a murder. Granville’s quest takes him to the seedier part of frontier towns (opium dens, brothels and dance halls).

The combination of strict Victorian morals and the rambunctious frontier provide a glimpse into a fascinating period of Canadian history.

TrainsThose Stimulus dollars are raising the hopes of train-loving Quad-Citians; they are starting to dream of  riding the rails to Chicago and  Iowa City, and perhaps to even more exotic lands.

Trains are very cinematic and are excellent vehicles (ha!) to further the plot of mysteries and novels. In Falling in Love, DeNiro and Streep meet  and, of course, fall in love, on a commuter train. The Station Agent, a great indie film, is about a loner who inherits a train depot. Against his will,  he develops friendships with those he meets at his station.

Novels made into films include Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery , John Godey’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train – turned into a  wonderfully funny and creepy  Hitchcock movie.

Here’s hoping you find love and romance rather than crime, terrorism and murder on your next train ride.