Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin

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Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Yorkshire, 1909, the world of steam trains - it's just a pity that this thriller does not engage enough, or provide our enjoyable hero with more to do.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571229659

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It is December 1909, and we're on the Yorkshire and North East coast. Jim Stringer, our favourite railway policeman is stranded at a countryside halt with the train snowbound. However he ends up staying at the stop for much longer, when a corpse is brought to his attention.

Purely by chance, one of his travelling companions has in the past been the dead man's colleague. Both had been trying this new photo-journalism lark for a London-based railway magazine. The dead chap, who has been left hung up so long his body has cleaved itself from the head, was carrying photographic evidence regarding the Cleveland Travellers Club, a mysterious cabal of five businessmen who used their own private train carriage to commute.

A mysterious and small cabal, who became more distinguished when Death started paying his membership dues...

Make no mistake, what follows for Stringer is very much a thriller adventure, and by no means a whodunit. The cast list is so short there seems no scope for major shocks, and the nation-crossing railway ride adventure that our hero has to undergo only provides the one surprise (because you won't be fooled by the ending either).

However, while reading this book with the analytical mind of a detective, there comes several points at which you just say "eh??!!". Now whether these are mistakes, printing errors, or just me being daft, I can't let them go - there are too many that make me think Faber have given this book a major disservice. You can skip the next paragraph if the idea of me being pedantic isn't to your taste, but I'd like to know...

Why is it implied the football goalie wears number six? Why does a London address turn from EC to just E? Why does page 74 allow our hero to refer to "all six" people in a photograph, when there are only five? And how on earth, pre-Network Rail, can a chap board a nine thirteen to London at ten thirty??

Right, normal service is resumed. There is a lot that is positive that is still worth saying about this book. The settings, from the new town of Middlesborough to the mines, iron-works and all the trains and railway equipment that beetle around them are very well evoked. The characters are for the most part fun, especially Stringer.

You of course lose a lot in having a hero allegedly entering peril while narrating in the first person (who's telling the story, his ghost?!), but we gain much from Stringer's words. There's an almost Pooterish humour to him getting his suit begrimed, dirty and smothered in ink while still hoping it will suffice for his wife's function that evening. And he has a good turn of phrase at times, especially regarding dead people's heads.

However, while he is certainly changed throughout this book, there is not enough for him to do, rather than decide whether to get on a train or not. Murder at Deviation Junction is a novelty while in service for the bookbag, in that it is the fourth in a series that I have actually heard of, and even own a couple of - tucked under the bed for future perusal. However I should expect more in their stories for Stringer to do.

I am sure fans of the series will appreciate this book - the background of Mrs Stringer being a new woman, and trying to get herself on the employment market with her friends at the Cooperative, and their ailing son is nice, and furthered by this self-contained plot. But while a slightly naïve and imperfect detective is a good jumping off point, there was a great sense on finishing this book that he had very little to do. The only thing driven was the trains.

The looking back over a hundred years is mostly entertaining, with quirky phrases coming from several people's mouths, although some jibes at our author's previous career of journalism just seem cheap. The setting is fine, the appeal of the steam train world crosses over to non-fans, and the lead character is a good invention, were he given something more to do.

It's the plot here that disappoints, with too much that is mundane. This should still be considered for a long train ride, but it won't keep you too gripped you miss your stop, more's the pity.

For a better, if more macabre, fun thriller adventure set at a similar time, I can still recommend The Devil in Amber.

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