Review: The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

A good (non-blogging) friend of mine recommended this author to me as a purveyor of fine, light reading, which is just what I’ve been after lately.

In 1850’s England railways were expanding all over the countryside and were being lauded by authorities as a safe, fast form of transport. So when the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed and its driver badly bashed and left to die Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck is immediately dispatched to uncover the culprits and return Britain’s faith in its rail system.

The first thing I always look for in historical fiction is interesting period details and this book is brimming with them. Clever use has been made of real events from the time, such as London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, and there are loads more tidbits as well. I was particularly struck by the realism of such things as the fact that the train driver was never consigned to a hospital despite his severe injuries and the descriptions of Devil’s Acre, London’s darkest and seediest corner at the time. For steam train enthusiasts there are plenty of wonderful details of locomotives and the various companies that were in operation during this era and overall it’s a jolly good depiction of the era.

Robert Colbeck is a fairly stereotypical super-sleuth: well-educated, more intelligent than everyone around him and impossibly knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects. But he’s not arrogant about it and he does have some foibles to make him more human and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him. He is ably assisted by Sergeant Leeming who unquestioningly does whatever is asked of him, including riding on the railways he doesn’t much care for. There is, of course, the somewhat bumbling senior officer for Colbeck to contend with but on the bright side there’s a hint of romance for him too so life is not all bad for him. The villain of the story is also quite thoughtfully depicted and lent a bit of gravity to the light tale.

The story rips along at a cracking pace and while the resolution to the mystery is not particularly complicated it all hangs together properly and there are a few unexpected twists. I enjoyed both the way the book depicted a general opposition to technological change which seems to happen repeatedly in human history and the wealth of historical detail to become lost in. Highly recommended as a ‘summer read’ for the historically inclined.

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My rating 3.5/5

Publisher Allison & Busby [2005]; ISBN 9780749083526; Length 318 pages

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Edward Marston is one of the pseudonyms used by Keith Miles but under this name alone he is a very prolific author with several series on the go including one featuring a Restoration-period architect and another set in and around Elizabethan theatre. I’ll be stocking up on more titles for those increasingly common periods when intelligent escapism is required. Check out the lengthy list of his titles at Fantastic Fiction for some reading inspiration.

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2 Responses to Review: The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

  1. Kerrie says:

    I enjoyed this one Bernadette and have promised myslef to read more… sometime


  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. It does sound like a terrific light historical read. I’m going to hunt this one down.


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