Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Necropolis Railway

Andrew Martin's The Necropolis Railway introduces the character of Jim Stringer onto the Edwardian mystery stage. Stringer starts out as a fairly wet behind the ears young bloke fresh out of Baytown (that's Robin Hood's Bay to us tourists). He's dead set on making a life and a career for himself on his beloved railways. His head is full of the romance of the railways, the rose coloured ideal straight out of the Boy's Own Paper or his revered Railway Magazine. His first job as a porter at the sleepy little station at Grosmont is a severe disappointment, being both the completely wrong career line  with no prospect of crossing over to engine driver, and seemingly no more exciting duties than primping the flowers or cleaning out the khazies. One day he meets a mysterious stranger who promises to get him onto the right track among the bustle and prospect of London, cleaning the engines that ply the funeral run from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery . Before long he's summoned down south to begin his new life but all is not quite as it seems. He steps into the shoes of a predecessor who was very likely murdered. Suspects abound and his life is made doubly difficult by being labelled a company spy by his workmates. With most of his dreams shattered Jim tries to unravel the mystery before he ends up as dead the last bloke, while trying to woo the girl of his dreams (his landlady).
Andrew Martin's writing is crammed packed with period detail and the day to day minutiae of the railways, colourful characters, a complicated mystery that doesn't seem to want to lie down with the other corpses and a coming of age character piece. The obvious glamour of steam engines clashes with the harsher realities of Edwardian London. It's probably not going to be everybody's cup of tea and some of the vernacular is probably going to annoy some folks but if you love anything to do with steam locomotives, Edwardian England and mystery stories you just might enjoy it as much as I did.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

British Robin

Camera Critters

Ok so it isn't Christmas yet but Robins just make me think of that time of year, so when rustling up a quick ditty to accompany this picture I couldn't avoid mentioning Christmas.

On turned earth,
or handy perch,
a garden friend
til end of year.
A flash of red,
an evening song,
the poster boy
for Christmas cheer.
                    Michael Finn

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Magistrates of Hell

You wait 15 years for a new vampire laced James Asher book and then two come along almost at once with Magistrates of Hell following on neatly from last year's Blood Maidens. Retired spy James Asher sails to China in 1912 to investigate the discovery of a body very like the mutated vampires he encountered in St Petersberg. Accompanied by his wife and Dr Solomon Karlebach, Asher bases his investigation within the cosmopolitan confines of the Legation Quarter in Peking under the blind of a purely academic interest in philology and folklore. Keeping an even lower profile is Asher's ancient Spanish vampire ally Don Simon Ysidro. Usually these books have Ysidro treading on the territorial toes of the local nest of urban vampires but China's vampires are something different. Incredibly ancient and not altogether sane they mostly remain aloof and hard to pin down. With Ysidro hampered by their elusiveness, Asher has to rely more on his human allies, the Van Helsing like vampire hunter Karlebach and the Japanese Samurai Count Mizukami. Asher and the Count actually make quite a dynamic pairing out in the wilds among the swarming rabid rats and equally the double dealings and murder within the city and the Legation. Barbara Hambly dishes up a more b-movie action based script than usual but it remains faithful to the series tone, is well researched and  maintains the levels of threat and anxiety common to Hambly books.  As ever Hambly know how to entertain.