The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin

The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin.  Fans of Edward Marston’s Railway Detective, Inspector Robert Colbeck, who are seeking a similar, yet different, alternative will be quite pleased with Martin’s series of mysteries featuring Jim Stringer.  Martin’s books are much darker than Marston’s and better convey the inner workings of the railway employees.  This is mostly due to the fact that whereas Colbeck is an inspector with the Metropolitan Police, a former barrister, who frequently gets assigned to cases involving the railways, Stringer begins his career as a porter with the North Eastern company, but with dreams of being an engine driver.  With a railway employee as his protagonist, Martin’s language is a bit rougher and full of technical descriptions and period slang, which could be seen as a negative by some readers.  Although there is only a 50-year difference in the settings of the two series, from the 1850s to 1900s, public perception of trains changed significantly during those decades, from being a new, and sometimes dangerous, mode of transportation still viewed with suspicion by some, including Colbeck’s assistant, Sergeant Lemming, to being an accepted part of daily life.

In the Necropolis story, the first in the series, Stringer is offered a job as a cleaner with the London and South Western Railway in the capital, which he envisions as the first step towards becoming a driver.  However, when he arrives, he discovers that his real mission is to investigate the disappearance of the man who previously held his position and other strange events around the rail yard, especially those related to the funeral trains that run from Waterloo station out to Brookwood Cemetery.  Stringer struggles with life in the big city and faces antagonism from the insular incumbent railway employees, but eventually discovers the truth hidden in the smoky air. 

There are three additional books in the series at this point, but I have not read any of them.  From reading synopses however, it appears that Stringer moves to a different rail company, but continues sleuthing, first part-time and then as an official detective.  Unfortunately, it seems that Lydia, Stringer’s girlfriend in the Necropolis story, is the only secondary character that continues to appear in the subsequent books.


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