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by Edward Marston
Allison and Busby, January 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0749083921

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

1852. A Great Western train leaves from Paddington to go to an illegal boxing match in Berkshire. Sam Horlock, a railway policeman and Ted Galway, the train guard are worried because they are carrying over 1000 working class, drunken low-lifes.

When the train stops at its destination, most of the 'milling' fans leave for the three-mile walk from Twyford Station to the venue of the fight between 'Mad' Isaac Rosen, a Bradford slaughterhouse employee and Bill 'The Bargeman' Hignett, a black London Thames barge worker. One man is left aboard, apparently asleep in a second class compartment.

Superintendent Edward Tallis of Scotland Yard sends Inspector Robert Colbeck and his assistant, Inspector Leeming, to see what has happened. They find Jacob Bransby, a cockney cobbler from Hoxton in Shoreditch, East London, dead, garrotted. He has a gold watch and some gold coins in a hidden pocket in his trousers. His wallet is intact. Apparently, he has just moved his wife from Clerkenwell to Shoreditch. They discover that Jacob Bransby is really Jacob Guttridge, a public executioner.

In London, they repair to the Lamb and Flag, one of the pubs frequented by Scotland Yard detectives to try to figure out what has happened, But before they can, another dead man is discovered on another train.

The by-play between Leeming and Colbeck is a microcosm of the era . . . Leeming trying to keep technology at bay while Colbeck embraces it. There is also the side story of Madeleine Andrews, the daughter of the train conductor Colbeck proved innocent in the first book in the series, THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE. Colbeck uses her as a confederate in his investigations, while keeping this fact from Supt Tallis, his extremely conservative supervisor.

Very few mysteries are set in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. Marston takes this important period in history and makes it his own.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, March 2005

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