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Stamboul Train (1932) is a novel by author Graham Greene. A thriller set on an Orient Express train, it was renamed Orient Express when it was published in the United Statesmarker.

Plot introduction

The novel is one of a number of works which the author classed as an "entertainment" so as to distinguish them from his more literary works. In 1974, Greene wrote:"In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims" (from the Introduction to the 1974 edition of Stamboul Train).

Plot summary

The novel focuses on the lives of individuals aboard the train as it makes a trip from Ostendmarker to Istanbulmarker.Although boarding the Orient Express for different purposes, the lives of each of the central characters are bound together in a fateful interlock.

Myatt is a shrewd and practical businessman. Partly out of generosity, he gives the sick Coral Musker a ticket, for which Musker feels grateful and dutifully falls in love with him. She then spends a night with him in his compartment.

Dr. Czinner, an exiled socialist leader, wants to travel back to Belgrademarker, only to find that a failed socialist outbreak took place there three days ahead of his return. He decides to go back to Belgrade nonetheless to stand his trial with the people. Meanwhile, he is spotted by Mabel Warren, a lesbian journalist who is travelling with her partner, Janet Pardoe. In order to go back to Belgrade, he has to pretend to leave the train at Viennamarker so that Warren would not follow him.

When the train arrives at Vienna, Warren, while keeping an eye on Czinner, leaves the train to make a phone call to her office. It is at this time that her bag is stolen by Josef Grünlich, who has just killed a man during a failed robbery. Grünlich then promptly boards the train with her money, while the angry Warren, left behind and worried about losing Pardoe, vows to get Czinner's story through other means.

At Suboticamarker, the train is stopped and Czinner is arrested. Apparently Warren has reported to the military about Czinner's trip. Also arrested are Grünlich, for keeping a revolver, and Musker, who by coincidence is with Czinner when the arrest takes place. A court martial is held and Czinner gives a rousing political speech, even though there is no real audience present. He is quickly sentenced to death.

The three prisoners are kept in a waiting room for the night. They soon realize that Myatt has just come back for Musker in a car. The skilful Grünlich breaks open the door and all three try to escape and run to the car. Unfortunately, only Grünlich is able to do so -- Czinner is shot and Musker hides him in a barn. Czinner dies soon after. When Warren comes back for her story, she happily takes Musker back to Vienna: she has long fancied to have Musker as her new partner.

The Orient Express finally arrives at Constantinople, and Myatt, Pardoe and Mr. Savory (a writer) get off. Myatt soon realizes that Pardoe is the niece of Stein, a rival businessman and potential business partner. The story ends with Myatt seriously considering marrying Pardoe and sealing the contract with Stein.


The central characters are a Socialist or Communist doctor, journalist and her companion, thief, currant trader, and dancer.

Dr. Paul Czinner: the doctor - described sometimes as a socialist and at another a communist - is returning to face trial for political crimes, as an agitator for class war.

Josef Grünlich: the thief, fleeing a murder after a bungled robbery, uses his charisma and intelligence in his attempt to flee his country.

Carleton Myatt: the currant trader, a Jew, is travelling on business and faces anti-semitism from many of his fellow travellers as he travels through pre-World War II Europe.

Mabel Warren: the journalist, is following the doctor, to report on his travels.

Coral Musker: the dancer, is travelling to a new job she has been offered.

Major themes

Greene's "entertainments" usually include discussion of serious issues, and Stamboul Train raises topics such as Racism and Socialism/Communism.A major theme in the novel is the issue of fidelity, the duty to others vis-á-vis duty to self, and whether faithfulness to others pays. The theme is most clearly shown in the struggles in the minds of Czinner and Musker.

The novel communicates a sense of unease which in part reflected the author's financial circumstances at the time he wrote it, and partly the gloom of the post-depression era in England. Greene wrote:"The pages are too laden by the anxieties of the time and the sense of failure... By the time I finished Stamboul Train the day of security had almost run out. Even my dreams were full of disquiet." (pp. 212-13, A Sort of Life, 1971)

On the eve of publication there was an unanticipated problem: a threatened libel action from J. B. Priestley. One of the novel's minor characters, a writer called Quin Savory, was alleged to be a defamatory representation of Priestley. In the book's final version, the Cockney novelist does not have much in common with Priestley, but the text had to be rewritten at the last moment.Looking back on the incident in the context of other problems with the libel laws, Greene explained:"In this case Mr Priestley, I am sure, really believed that this all-but-unknown writer was attacking him; he acted in good faith" (from the Introduction to the 1974 edition of the book.

Film adaptation

A film named "Orient Express" was made in 1934 starring Heather Angel as Coral Musker.


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