The Silk Train Murder: a mystery of the Klondike

The Silk Train Murder: a mystery of the Klondike by Sharon Rowse.  There are only two things wrong with this debut mystery set in 1899 Vancouver.  First, the title is severely misleading as the characters never get on the train and the train plays very little part in the plot at all.  Also, given the use of the word “Klondike” in the sub-title, I was expecting a bit more wilderness setting than urban Vancouver.  Even worse, Rowse does very little to capture the tone of the city at that time through her description of the streets, neighborhoods and residents.  This is especially surprising since she lives in Vancouver and should have access to historical records.  The second problem is that the characters lack originality.  The main character, and the one future books in this series will feature, is John Granville, fourth son of the fifth Baron Granville back in England.  The idea of the gentleman detective is certainly not new, nor is the independent adventure-seeking young woman of upper-class birth, found here in the form of Emily Turner.

The plot itself is not bad: the Honorable Mr. Granville arrives in Vancouver downtrodden and almost penniless after failing to find gold in the Yukon.  His old mining friend Sam Scott hires him as his partner in guarding train cars, soon to be filled with silk from the Orient, from sabotage.  The morning after their second night on the job, the pair finds the dead body of one of the city’s criminal captains.  Mr. Jackson has a long list of enemies, but twenty-four hours later it’s Scott that’s in jail, accused of the murder and Granville must determine who the real killer is before his friend goes on trial.  Along the way, Granville is assisted by a young ex-thief, Trent Davis, the rebellious Miss Turner, and an ambitious newspaperman as he meets with most of Vancouver’s underworld bosses and ventures into opium dens and back-alley brothels in his chase for clues that will free his friend.  One can only hope that Rowse can improve her ability to convey the historical details of her setting in future books.

A much more interesting independent woman from this time period is Dianne Day’s Fremont Jones, a Boston native living and working in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake.  For a great mystery set in the Canadian wilderness, I recommend Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves set in the 1860s.  I’m also a big fan of Maureen Jennings’ series featuring William Murdoch, a police officer in 1895 Toronto.

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