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.

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