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Through the ages with the Trans-Siberian Express

5 October 2017

"I could never have imagined such expanses of unspoilt, natural country without actually seeing it myself, it was like a glimpse into another age, another world, and it made a very strong impression on me. It was strange to be sitting in a train, which is the product of technology - the invention of mankind, and travelling through land so untouched and unspoilt by man and his inventions."

David Bowie has always had a way with words, but his commentary on the journey he made aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in 1973, following the Japanese leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour, will resonate with anyone who's ever experienced the train themselves. Such luxury, not just when it comes to the onboard services and facilities, but also the life-enriching scenery and people, is largely unparalleled. There's little wonder then that it has an almost cult following, and its ability to nature curiosity and intrigue means it's also unsurprising that it features time and again in pop culture. And to celebrate the longest section of the railway's 120th birthday, we've complied our favourite examples from the genres of film and literature.

The Trans-Siberian Express by Warren Addler

Written and published around the same time that Bowie was riding the rails and being inspired by the Eastern block to write classic songs such as Heroes, The Trans-Siberian Express is a cleverly crafted tale of cold-war conspiracy that, of course, also features a healthy dose of romance. And much of the action unfolds, you guessed it, on board the Trans-Siberian Express. There's been a recent rumour that there's a movie adaptation in the pipeline, which given current world events and the political climate, seems very fitting. It is however not to be confused however with;


Though not the most original of names, this 2008 psychological thriller follows an American couple as they make the journey from China to Russia on the Trans-Siberian, but trouble ensues after they befriend their cabin mates and get caught up in an ever-deepening plot that incorporates mistaken identity, deals gone wrong and the most adventurous railway enthusiast to make it to the silver screen. Well received by critics and cinema goers alike, "traditional in form yet effective in execution, this taut thriller updates the 'danger on a train' scenario with atmospheric sense.", it is well worth a watch, and a great way to get in the mood for any upcoming rail holidays!

It's a familiar trope - mystery and manslaughter on the railways (just look at Murder on the Orient Express and Strangers on a train), a narrative technique that expands on the 'locked room' plot device. Once you add in a much rhapsodised travel method, it makes for a complex yet enchanting mix - a mobile whodunit with an ever-changing backdrop. Which leads us to our next entry…

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express

Now, it may sound very similar to a well-known novel by Agatha Christie featuring her moustachioed Belgian detective, but the innovative storyline of this 2001 publication will help you forgive it that. Written as part of Stuart M. Kaminsky's Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov detective series, it bravely dives straight into the dysfunctional world of Russian politics and religion, dealing the avid reader (you can't help but be) surprise after surprise as we and our hero are dragged ever deeper into the grimy depths of Moscow on the trail of a century old secret. Juxtaposed with a more diverse, modern-day mystery, it's a rollercoaster of events and settings that is incredibly hard to put down.

One of 2017's main cinematic events is set to be the latest version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, and with Adler's Trans-Siberian (hopefully) making its way to the big screen as well, it seems like the nostalgic marriage of great stories aboard great trains is back in fashion and we for one couldn't be more excited.