The Somme Stations is Andrew Martin's seventh book featuring Jim Stringer. The series usually follows Stringer's investigations as a Detective at the York office of the North Eastern Railway Police. This one though takes place during the First World War. It begins after most of the events in the book have concluded with Jim's wife writing letters to a friend as he recovers from injuries sustained during his time in France and with a murder charge hanging over him. How we got to this point is recounted in first person by Jim himself, beginning with his enlistment and followed by his war service, the tone being very like an extended letter home or a personal memoir. It's colourfully written with language authentic to the time and location, though thankfully it doesn't try to annotate the local accents. I'm a northern lad myself, of the red rose variety rather than the white, but even so books that insist on putting accent onto the page do become tedious fast unless the writer is something of a genius. The writer here keeps it simple. He builds the ensemble characters/suspects competently, choosing to focus on their little quirks and eccentricities to quickly establish the who's who. It's well done and something a bit different. Stringer retains no police rank in this book and gives a suspect's point of view to the investigation which takes a while to get started and then simmers quietly in the background as Stringer's regiment is trained, goes to France, including that fateful day, July 1st on the Somme, and later establishing a network of light railways, ferrying ammunition to artillery emplacements. Even without the mystery element to the story, the fictional war memoir is very well researched, amusing, poignant and authentic sounding. Add to that the author's obvious love for all things relating to steam locomotion and you have an unusual addition to the crime fiction genre.
The Somme Stations will be published in the UK on the 3rd of March 2011.
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