Published in 2010, Railway To The Grave by Edward Marston is the seventh in his series of Victorian murder mysteries. They feature Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming of Scotland Yard and are set in the 1850s. Having had a great success with a case involving a train robbery, Inspector Colbeck is frequently called in by railway companies when a case has some link to their property. He’s become known by the press as the ‘Railway Detective.’
This seems a clever premise, providing evocative settings from lonely halts to locomotive sheds or bustling London stations and taking the detectives all over the country. The 1850s is a carefully chosen time when fortunes had been made and lost by the many railway companies and train travel wasn’t yet taken for granted or universally liked.
In Railway To The Grave, a retired colonel deliberately walks along a railway track towards a speeding train. This happens some weeks after his wife has vanished. The two detectives are sent to Yorkshire by their Superintendent to solve the mystery of the disappearance which led to his old friend’s suicide. Set around a village and the real market town of Northallerton, it isn’t long before Superintendent Tallis decides to travel north himself, much to the others’ dismay.
Colbeck and Leeming are likeable and an interesting contrast. The characters are very believable with the spite and gossip of a small community. There are also some nicely handled touches of humour with the Superintendent’s foibles. The plot is fast-moving with plenty of suspects and revelations along the way. The motive isn’t run-of-the-mill and the identity of the murderer is a satisfying conclusion to an atmospheric case.
This is the first ‘Railway Detective Mystery’ I’ve read and I enjoyed it very much. Edward Marston’s evident knowledge of and affection for the steam age makes a lively and absorbing background. I’ll certainly be trying more in the series.