Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The Necropolis Railway. Andrew Martin. Faber and Faber Ltd. (2002)
This is an enjoyably, slow burning period thriller which serves up lashings of atmosphere and a cleverly crafted plot. Jim Stringer has always wanted to work on the railways and in 1903 he is given the chance to move to London to do so. He is assigned to work on the service to Brookwod Cemetery run on behalf on the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company. The rest of the crew on the service are hostile and Jim finds that he is replacing someone who mysteriously disappeared. The story is unhurried, Jim Stringer is no fool, he is new to London and Waterloo railway station. The story unfurls carefully with a great cunningly staged reveals that hide more than they expose. The conclusion is clever and unexpected.
The momentum is slow in this story, the story takes it time to develop into something tangible. The atmospheric period details are allow to take centre stage and Jim Stringer is a credible lead player. The story takes it pace from his narrative as he finds his way through the overwhelming confusion of his new job, London and the unexpected reactions of those he meets. The arcane details of working on a steam railway are provided with a light hand and the cast are very much at home in their context.
The large cast are very well drawn, the hierarchies in the working life of the railways is cleverly used. There is a nicely subdued romance that arises naturally and easily. The central mystery emerges slowly, like a train emerging from a steam cloud, it neatly ties up the strands in the story and is strongly rooted in the cast and their activities. Low key and beguiling.