SAM McCARVER – The Case of Compartment 7. John Darnell #2. Signet, paperback original; 1st printing, February 2000.

   When the book begins, the year is 1914, and the drums of war are beginning to echo their way across the European continent. It seems hardly the time to take a train ride from Paris to Bucharest on the famed Orient Express, much less a honeymoon trip, but paranormal investigator John Darnell is mixing business with pleasure. He’s been hired to investigate why compartment number seven is being haunted by a female ghost who keeps appearing in it while dressed in bloody clothing.

   As it turns out, ,however, his primary task is shoved off to the side once several deaths and near deaths start occurring. Europe is a hotbed of intrigue, and thefts, aborted bomb attempts, and various secret plots of all kinds find the train a perfect setting to take place.

   This is one of those works of historical fiction in which purely fictional characters are mixed in with others who are real (or were), most notably Mata Hari, traveling under her name at birth, and a nurse named Agatha Miller, a year before she married a certain Mr. Christie. The conceit of course being that she is taking notes for a career, she hopes, in writing mystery fiction.

   With all of the plotting going on in such closed confines, the overall story has a continual tension to it, there’s no denying it. It’s all the more disappointing then, that the ending fails to rise to the occasion as greatly as it does, in comparison to everything that’s gone before.

   Mysteries that take place on trains are always a lot of fun, though, as long as the Orient Express remains in motion, making its way across the European landscape, so is this one.

       The John Darnell series —

1. The Case of Cabin 13 (1999)
2. The Case of Compartment 7 (2000)
3. The Case of the 2nd Seance (2000)
4. The Case of the Ripper’s Revenge (2001)
5. The Case of the Uninvited Guest (2002)
6. To Die, or Not to Die (2003)