Packed stations, lonely tracks, stranded cars: Writers love setting mysteries and thrillers on trains. And with a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express on the big screen (and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train still freaking out commuters everywhere), we’re looking back on more than a century of claustrophic, fast-paced train-set mysteries.
La Bête Humaine, by Émile Zola (1890)
The homicidal train conductor at the heart of Zola’s gothic horror novel has an almost romantic relationship with his engine. Order it here.
The Story of the Lost Special, by Arthur Conan Doyle (1898)
In this short story, a train goes missing, leaving behind only the engineer’s dead body and a mysterious note. Order it here.
Stamboul Train, by Graham Greene (1932)
Five train passengers’ lives are intertwined in the sex-and-crime-soaked story, which Greene deliberately wrote as a pleasure read. Order it here.
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie (1934)
The highlight of Christie’s book — about a murder committed on a snowbound luxury train — may be Poirot’s quotable quip “I do not like your face, Mr. Ratchett.” Order it here.
Mr. Norris Changes Trains, by Christopher Isherwood (1935)
As the Nazis rise in Berlin, a man makes a strange new friend on a train. Mr. Norris is a spy, Communist, masochist … and much more. Order it here.
The Wheel Spins, by Ethel Lina White (1936)
Another train, another mysterious new friend … and this one disappears. Alfred Hitchcock turned the novel into The Lady Vanishes. Order it here.
The Case Is Closed, by Patricia Wentworth (1937)
In Wentworth’s second Miss Silver mystery, a wife tries to free her husband from jail, helped by a madwoman, and a vanished witness. Order it here.
Dread Journey, by Dorothy B. Hughes (1945)
Kitten is an actress trapped on a train in a game of cat and mouse. The twist? She’s the mouse — and her director wants her dead. Order it here.
Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith (1950)
In Highsmith’s grim psychological thriller, the titular strangers discuss committing murders. Problems arise when one takes it seriously. Order it here.
4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie (1957)
When Elspeth McGillicuddy witnesses a strangulation through the blinds of a passing train, only Miss Jane Marple believes her. Order it here.
From Russia With Love, by Ian Fleming (1957)
Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel sees the martini-sipping spy escaping assassination by the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH. Order it here.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, by John Godey (1973)
In every New Yorker’s nightmare, a subway train is hijacked by a group of thugs, including a disgruntled former motorman and an ex-mafioso. Order it here.
The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton (1975)
The Ocean’s Eleven-like page-turner follows a charming master thief as he embarks on a yearlong mission to steal a hefty shipment of gold. Order it here.
Midnight Specials: An Anthology for Train Buffs and Suspense Aficionados, edited by Bill Pronzini (1977)
Pronzini’s anthology binds together short railroad thrillers from writers like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. Order it here.
Le Transperceneige (Snowpiercer), by Jacques Lob & Jean-Marc Rochette (1982)
In this French graphic novel, an ice age forces humanity onto a globe-circling, 1,001-car train, until the poor caboose-dwellers revolt.
"The Midnight Meat Train" Books of Blood, Vol. 1, by Clive Barker (1984)
A man falls asleep on a NYC subway train and awakens in a secret station past the end of the line, full of butchered human bodies. Order it here.
The Edge, by Dick Francis (1989)
On a train filled with rich Canadians and racehorses, a man tries to solve a real murder mystery while actors perform a theatrical one. Order it here.
Murder on the Ballarat Train, by Kerry Greenwood (1991)
Flapper-cum-detective Phryne Fisher finds her relaxing train trip thwarted by chloroform poisonings and rumors of black magic. Order it here.
Death Train to Boston, by Dianne Day (1999)
Day’s mystery contains odd ingredients: an exploding train, a pair of romantically involved detectives, and a sect of fanatical Mormons. Order it here.
Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express, by Stuart M. Kaminsky (2001)
Three stories — involving a stab-happy lunatic, a one-legged policeman, and a kidnapped rock star — intersect on a train. Order it here.
The Necropolis Railway, by Andrew Martin (2002)
An earnest young man’s new railroad job is a dream come true — until he realizes his coffin-transporting predecessor has vanished. Order it here.
Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier (2004)
This philosophical work follows a routine-driven classics instructor who is inspired to make a change after studying the life of a brilliant doctor. Order it here.
Murder on the Brighton Express, by Edward Marston (2008)
When a locomotive derails and leaves disaster in its wake, Inspector Colbeck must find the culprit before he strikes again. Order it here.
Lowboy, by John Wray (2009)
Told in short spurts, Wray’s novel is set in the distorted mind of a paranoid-schizophrenic teen riding the subway. Order it here.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (2015)
An alcoholic divorcée casually stalks a young couple she spies from the window of her daily commute — but when she sees something one morning that doesn’t seem right, she embroils herself in the ensuing police investigation … and unexpectedly becomes a suspect. Order it here.