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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Railway Detective. Edward Marston. Allison & Busby Ltd. (2004)


This is an engaging and enjoyable period crime story. In 1851 the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed in a very carefully executed operation. In addition to robbing the train, it is also derailed. Detective Robert Colbeck is in charge of the investigation and he quickly comes to appreciate the intelligence and ferocity of his opponents. As he steadily uncovers the wider plan at foot he finds that the closer he gets the greater danger he and those about him are in. The reveals are neatly staged, the plot is thoughtful, the cast are lively.
The story does not quite ignite as it should, there is a restraint in the book that keeps the tone and action just too low key. Robert Colbeck is thoughtful and credible, a man who has nice shades of character. He is a dedicated police office who is just ahead of existing police policy. The villains are well detailed and the motives are mixed and natural. The friction between the police and the criminals never produces heat, there is not enough thrills.
The period details are lightly woven into the book and serve the story well. The disruptive impact of the railways on English society is captured with skill. The large cast are all given clear voices and the space to make an impression. Edward Marston treats his cast with considerable sympathy and the story benefits greatly from it. The major strength of the book is the way the cast draw in the reader and bring the context to warm life. This a good fun book, it needs a slightly sharper edge.

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