The Necropolis Railway, by Andrew Martin

Set in the early 1900s, this is the story of Jim Stringer, who comes to London to work cleaning engines on the railway, and stumbles across what appears to be a series of murders.

There is a good setting for the story: although I'd not heard of it before, the Necropolis Railway did exist and was created to cater for burials which took place at a large cemetary near Brookwood, after it was thought that the sites in London were full to capacity. In fact, not long after the Brookwood cemetary was established, new acts of Parliament were passed which compelled the London boroughs to make land available for local burials, and so the Necropolis Railway quickly fell into decline.

Against this backdrop, and with plenty of period detail, Jim muddles his way through a rather hard-to-follow plot, and is eventually almost bumped off himself, before being rescued and explaining all to the police, and us.

What was good about this story was the setting, and the descriptions of London at the turn of the century, which were very evocative. It reminded me a bit of River of Darkness in this respect. What was also good, albeit rather irritating, was Jim's personality: he is obsessive about railways, a bit self-important, rather lacking in imagination, and something of a whinger. The reader, Hugh Walters, did a really good job of bringing Jim to life, with an Alan Bennett-ish voice which was by turns officious, indignant, and disappointed.

What was bad about the story was the plot, which was very hard to follow (perhaps this was deliberate as Jim himself didn't really know what was going on). I see that there's another book by Martin due with another story about Jim, but I'm not sure I'd bother with it.

There's a Guardian article about Martin and the research he did for this book.

Completed : 08-Jul-2004 (audiobook)

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