From murder mysteries set on trains, to spy thrillers on submarines, or historical novels centred around the wonder of flight — there are so many great books set aboard transportation. And for one of our 2020 challenge prompts, that’s exactly what we’re looking for!
To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of twenty different books set on (or around) a mode of transportation. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, The 52 Book Club earns from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Books listed here are ones we’ve personally read and/or know fit the prompt!
1. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Murder tends to follow the famous detective, Hercule Poirot, wherever he goes — even on holiday. On a cruise down the Nile River, a young woman is murdered. She was young, stylish and on her honeymoon. But there’s more to this cast of characters than first meets the eye. As the author slowly peels back layers of motive for each character, a timeless mystery full of intrigue and tragedy is uncovered.
This is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels. The setting is luxurious and exotic; and the plot’s full of twists and intriguing character studies. And, with a new movie rendition on the near horizon, there’s no better time to give Death on the Nile a read!
“Fey…a Scotch word…It means the kind of exalted happiness that comes before disaster. You know–it’s too good to be true.” — Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile.
Find it on Amazon.
Check it out on Goodreads.
2. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a Cuban fisherman and his battle with a giant marlin. Published in 1952, this was the last major work of fiction published in Hemingway’s lifetime and one of his best-known pieces. A short story of determination and struggle, this modern classic could be a great way to round out this year’s challenge — and an excellent fit for a book set on transportation.
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” — Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.
3. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
A train is snowed in on the tracks. Onboard, a murder has taken place. A passenger has been stabbed a dozen times — but with the door still locked from the inside, how did the murderer get into his compartment? Nearly everyone has an alibi but also, a motive. Hercule Poirot is on the case for one of Agatha Christie’s most renowned novels.
In this year’s challenge, Murder on the Orient Express seems to be one of the more popular choices for “a book set on transportation” and there’s little wonder why. This book is a classic — dialogue-heavy but full of motive and intrigue, fascinating characters, and an incredible surprise ending. An all-round brilliant read.
4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel rides the same train every morning. She’s even started to daydream about a couple living in one of the homes along the tracks. She calls them “Jess and Jason,” and their life, she believes, is perfect. But then she sees something that changes everything. Told in first-person narrative from the perspective of three different women, this psychological thriller may not be the most surprising of reads but is an intriguing one.
“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” — Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train.
5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Sara Gruen is a gorgeous writer, and in that respect, this book does not disappoint. Water for Elephants is the tale of star-crossed lovers. Set in the travelling circus world of the 1930s, evil lurks under the big tent. Told as a series of memories from 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski, the book is filled with romance, mystery, murder, and a little humour. This New York Times bestseller is set aboard a circus train, making for a gritty, glitzy setting and all-round engrossing read. **Note: This novel contains mature scenes.
“When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It’s fate.” — Sara Guen, Water for Elephants.
6. West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Celebrated aviation pioneer, Beryl Markham writes of her life growing up in Kenya in the early 1900s. With her successful careers as a racehorse trainer and a bush pilot, much of the book is spent recounting her time in the sky. In an era of adventure seekers vying for aviation records, Markham flies solo from England to New York. Crash landing in Nova Scotia, this aviatrix became the first woman to cross the Atlantic east to west solo.
West with the Night is rich in imagery. Its vivid descriptions seem almost lyrical in nature, as Markham shares of her incredible life in the sky. (You know it’s good when Hemingway himself said — “As it is, she has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”) This book is a beautiful adventure autobiography. While it took me some time to get into it, once I did, I was hooked!
(Looking for a fictionalized account of Beryl Markham’s adventures? Check out Paula McLain’s book, Circling the Sun.)
7. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
With decades under his belt as an astronaut and pilot, Hadfield has logged more than 4000 hours in space. This book is a mesmerizing and entertaining look into how the lessons learned in space (staying calm, preparing for the worst, conquering fear, enjoying every moment of life!) can translate into our lives back here on the ground.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth was full of warmth and humour and had all the fun, real-life astronaut tidbits readers could want. This book is an inspiring and lighthearted read for space-enthusiasts everywhere.
“I wasn’t lonely. Loneliness, I think, has very little to do with location. It’s a state of mind. In the centre of every city are some of the loneliest people in the world. If anything, because our whole planet was just outside the window, I felt even more aware of and connected to the seven billion other people who call it home.” — Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.
Find it on Amazon.
Check it out on Goodreads.
8. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Lo Blacklock, a travel writer, has been given a dream assignment — a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of other passengers. But as the Aurora sails through the North Sea, Lo witnesses something terrifying. She’s certain she’s seen a woman thrown overboard but no one believes her. After all, the guests are all accounted for. Aren’t they?
While I struggled to enjoy the characters in this novel, I did appreciate the Agatha Christie-like vibes. (A murder in an isolated location with only a certain number of possible suspects? Sounds like a Christie to me.) With its suspenseful storyline and numerous twists, this quick and compelling read will keep you on your toes.
9. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis
Part of CS Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia series, this book is jam-packed with familiar and lovable characters. This tale contains adventure and fantasy, as King Caspian, Lucy, Edward, Eustace, and a crew of shipmates (including a talking mouse, Reepicheep) set sail on the Dawn Treader. Their exploration leads to various surprises and narrow escapes as they search the sea for to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia.
It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite story from the Chronicles of Narnia, but in terms of adventure, this one is high on the list! Capturing my imagination as a child, the book continues to be a go-to re-read even now.
“Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.” — C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
10. A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
Aboard the cruise ship, Orantes, not all is as it seems. When Lily Shepherd boards the vessel bound for Australia, the world is on the brink of war. Amidst the cocktails and glamorous friends, secrets rise to the surface. By the time the boat docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared and Lily’s life is forever altered. While this storyline wasn’t as mysterious as I’d initially expected it to be, this well-written novel is a great historical fiction read with an unexpected ending.
11. Caroline by Sarah Miller
Ready for a dusty journey on a covered-wagon? Most of us are familiar with the childhood Little House on the Prairie series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But what would the story look like from Caroline Ingalls’ perspective? In this novel, Sarah Miller dives deeper into the character of “Ma,” exploring her emotions and capturing the resilience and strength of the pioneer women. While the pacing of this novel is slow, it has a very nostalgic feel for Little House fans — recounting familiar stories from Caroline’s view.
12. The Huntress by Kate Quinn
In this historical novel, an unlikely trio team up to track down a Nazi war-criminal known as The Huntress. The connections are personal but only one of them knows what she looks like. Nina Markova escaped the Huntress’ clutches, but the brother of British war correspondent Ian Graham wasn’t so fortunate.
In America, seventeen-year-old photographer Jordan has been perturbed by subtle inconsistencies in her new step-mother’s behaviour. As the trail takes Nina and Ian to America, their paths cross with the young photographer, exposing the lingering, individual consequences of war.
Notes for the challenge: A large part of this dual-timeline novel surrounds Nina’s roll flying Soviet Union bombers. This fictionalized look into the WWII history of the “Night Witches” makes for a fascinating read set aboard transportation.
13. Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields
This Christian non-fiction looks at some of the core Gospel stories through the eyes of a fisherman (or in this case, fisherwoman.) Leslie Leyland Fields, a long-time Alaskan fisherwoman, recounts many personal stories of life and salmon fishing along the rugged Alaskan coast. The faith-filled, Christ-centred book reads with an authentic and engaging voice, capturing the reality of life aboard a fishing vessel. Using her personal experience on the water, Leslie’s unique perspective invites readers to better understand some of the Bible’s “fishier” parables and stories.
“Those fishermen [the disciples] left their nets to follow God. I will follow him by staying.” — Crossing the Waters, Leslie Leyland Fields.
14. Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben
In October 1984, a commuter plane crashes into the wilderness of Northern Alberta. Six people are killed. Four survive: the pilot, a politician, a cop, and the criminal he was transporting. As they fight to make it through the icy night, unbreakable bonds are built and lives transformed.
Written by Carol Shaben, the daughter of one of the survivors, this story explores the events leading up to this fateful night and delves into some of the history surrounding Canadian aviation. While the cover of the book feels slightly misleading (it’s well-written but can feel slower and more technical), this book is an intriguing look into Canadian aviation regulations and a testament to the human will to live.
15. Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
“On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.” (From the publisher)
In this novel, Ariel Lawhon (author of books like I was Anastasia) explores the tragic fate of one of the world’s most famous blimps. This is the one book on the list that I haven’t yet read personally, but it’s been sitting on my TBR pile for a while now.
16. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
When Nina’s job as a librarian in the city comes to an abrupt end, she buys a van and winds up in a quaint village in Scotland. Selling books from her “bookmobile” (it sounds magical in there!) she matches readers with perfect literary pairing. Along the way, Nina meets new friends and romantic-interests, finding adventure and perhaps, even her own happy ending.
I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I fell for this story. The characters are quirky and charming — perfect for chick-lit fans. Since the majority of the story centers in and around Nina’s time in her own personal, bookstore-on-wheels this is a sweet and easy read to fit the prompt!
“Because every day with a book is slightly better than one without, and I wish you nothing but the happiest of days.” — Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Corner
17. Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie
Eleven passengers are on the flight from Paris to London. While Hercule Poirot sleeps, one of them is killed by a poisoned blowdart. It has to be one of the other nine, but with passengers hiding secrets and motivations, the answer to this puzzle isn’t so simple. Set in the air, this is a classic Agatha who-dunnit.
While this is the third (and last) Agatha Christie novel to make it on this list, there are still a few we haven’t mentioned yet. (Check out A Caribbean Mystery or The Mystery of the Blue Train for more transportation set mysteries by Christie.)
18. A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly
A non-fiction story of a young boy who falls asleep on a train and wakes alone, on the other side of India. After surviving weeks on the street of Kolkata, he is taken to an orphanage and eventually adopted by an Australian family. This is Saroo’s story of survival, family, and finding his way home.
While the writing in this book occasionally felt stiff, the incredible account of Saroo’s life more than makes up for it. This book is heartbreaking and tragic but also a remarkable tale of perseverance. Crying my way through the final chapters, I was left feeling inspired and encouraged by this amazing life story.
Notes for the challenge: Only a small section of the book takes place on the train but it is still a foundational part of the storyline. The entire book revolves around this pivotal moment in Saroo’s life, making this book a good fit for a transportation themed category.
19. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Written in the late 1800s, this book was published just months before its author’s death and became an instant bestseller. Told from the perspective of a horse, Black Beauty grows up surrounded by loving friends and owners but eventually learns that not all humans treat animals kindly. A classic story about treating animals and others with kindness and respect.
Notes for the challenge: We love to interpret challenge prompts creatively around here. Black Beauty isn’t technically set on a form of transportation, but since the main character IS a form of transportation, it definitely works!
“We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.” — Anna Sewell, Black Beauty.
20. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
In 1943, a crew of American men crash in the Pacific Ocean. Remarkably, two of the men, survived forty-seven days lost at sea. This is the incredible, true-life account of Louis Zamperini — an Olympic athlete, World War II veteran and Japanese POW survivor.
This is a book that I am constantly recommending to others. (It may even be one of my current, top ten favourites.) This book is an extremely well researched and highly detailed chronicle that is not only historical in nature, but also thoroughly engaging. Louis Zamperini lived an astonishing life. Heartbreaking and uplifting, this book is a must-read!
Notes for the challenge: While the book covers events before and after being stranded at sea (all entirely fascinating and remarkable in their own right!) a sizeable chunk of the story focuses on his time spent stranded on the raft, making it a great “transportation-themed” read.
What book are you using for your “set on transportation category?
Share in the comments!