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~~The Steam Detective~~
It can't be easy coming up with a new formula for crime fiction these days, but Andrew Martin's Edwardian railway detective Jim Stringer is a true original. The series was new to me and I found the book refreshingly engaging. Martin's characters are quirky, the setting atmospheric and the plot intriguing.
This is a fairly light but satisfying read, with just sufficient depth, themes of jealousy and ambition, and a strong sense of authenticity. There may be a touch of Sherlock Holmes about the atmosphere, but there are enough differences and the plot is original, with perhaps just a hint of 'film noir'.
~~A storm brewing~~
The period is post-Victorian, just before the Great War. The setting is a somewhat bleak wintry Yorkshire, as reflected in the title. Martin lovingly evokes his native county in a golden age of steam without straying too far into the realm of the 'anorak' and distracting from the narrative. Nor is this a rose-tinted vision.
Descriptions of the prevailing weather are evocative, adding to the general sense of apprehension. Without giving too much away, the sea plays a significant role too.
The author's flash-forward/back technique has a somewhat cinematic quality, and the eerie hotel where much of the action takes place echoes certain classic scenarios. But this is not to detract from the novelty. This is a well structured ripping yarn that had me gripped from start to finish, one that might transfer successfully to the screen.
Stringer's reluctant assignment is to investigate, undercover, the disappearance of a fellow railway worker. Foul play is suspected at a gothic cliff-top seaside hotel/guesthouse (ironically named 'The Paradise') ... and trouble soon ensues.
As the plot unravels and the mystery is ultimately solved, for me it is the period detail that excels here, along with the relationships between Martin's colourful characters, including Stringer, his Chief, his wife and the seductive Amanda Rickerby.
Currently discounted by Amazon at £4.77 for the paperback edition or just £4.53 for Kindle.
Pbk: 320 pages
Faber and Faber, 2010
Refreshingly innovative, engaging and entertaining historical crime fiction: recommended holiday reading. At just over 300 pages, the paperback should pack easily - or maybe try the e-book?
*Andrew Martin [Home] : www.jimstringernovels.com
*Bibliography and biography : www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/andrew-martin
[© SteveS001, 2011. A version of this original review may be found on other review sites]