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by Edward Marston
Allison & Busby, July 2016
384 pages
ISBN: 0749020016

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The year is 1860, and when Scotland Yard Inspector Robert Colbeck is informed that a murder has taken place in Wimborne, Dorset, he is incensed to learn that another officer will be sent to investigate the crime, which is connected to the London and South Western Railway. He knows both the area and the railway like the back of his hand, and believes the case should be his. But Superintendent Tallis is aware that Colbeck's wife is about to give birth, and believes it is only proper that her husband should remain at her side. After some debate Tallis reluctantly agrees with Colbeck, and sends the Inspector and his Sergeant, Victor Leeming, to look into the case.

It is a puzzling matter. The body of a railway policeman named John Bedloe has been discovered lying across the railway tracks, just minutes before a train was due to pass. He has been stabbed, and a corkscrew has been driven into his tongue. Someone is sending a particularly gruesome message.

Complicating Colbeck's investigation into the case, Ambrose Feltham, a local man running for mayor of the nearby village, believes Colbeck should report to him. It's only reasonable, he argues, as he is the person who sent to Scotland Yard for help in the first place. Colbeck resents the man's attempts to manage the inquiry, and rebuffs his interference. But Feltham is not easily shoved aside; he contacts Colbeck's superior, Superintendent Tallis, who travels to Wimborne to oversee the investigation.

Despite Feltham's efforts to dominate the inquiry it's not long before Colbeck and Leeming discover a possible motive for Bedloe's death. A cache of incriminating letters–maddeningly unsigned–is found, indicating that the man had been having simultaneous affairs with several married women in the area. Any one of the women–or their husbands–would have had ample motive to take revenge against the philanderer; Colbeck's challenge is to discover the identities of these women, determine whether their husbands knew of their infidelities, and discover which among them had the opportunity to act on their rage.

Edward Marston–aka Keith Miles in real life–is no stranger to readers of crime fiction. He is impressively prolific: over the past three decades he has penned no less than 48 novels in six different series. His stories are traditional whodunits, with little gore, and reveal a sharp ear for dialogue; the focus is squarely on the plot. Marston's engaging tales are informed by a strong sense of atmosphere and attention to detail, and will appeal to readers in search of challenging puzzles in well-told stories set in an earlier time.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, September 2016

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