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by Edward Marston
Allison and Busby, June 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0749081805

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As a fan of Edward Marston's Restoration-era amateur-sleuth architect Christopher Redmayne, I looked forward to meeting one of Marston's other series protagonists: Victorian police officer Inspector Colbeck, aka 'The Railway Detective.' The third Colbeck mystery, THE RAILWAY VIADUCT, is wonderful. Once again, Marston's passion for the mysteries of architecture and the architectonics of mystery shines through his warmly satirical storytelling.

In THE RAILWAY VIADUCT, a slightly batty painter is busy painting a ground's eye view of the Sankey viaduct when a train passes over it and a man's body falls from a car into the water. As the train was on its way to Liverpool -- Colbeck's home territory -- it's his job to solve the murder.

His investigations take him and his crew of idiosyncratic co-workers across the channel to France, where a British entrepreneur is expanding that country's rail lines, and employing a huge crew of Irish migrant workers to do so. As Colbeck gets closer to the solution, he discovers that the fate of the man on the train is linked to much larger matters.

Meanwhile, maverick Irish police officer Brendan Mulryne must prove himself to a haughty, distrusting superior and Colbeck can't tear himself away from the heroine of a previous tale, the engine driver Caleb Andrews's artistically gifted daughter Madeleine. But the viaduct murderer is on to Colbeck: as he moves toward the solution, he also courts increasing danger.

I learned a few things about trains whilst reading this book. For example, whereas, in Britain, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's refusal to use the same rail gauge as other engineers made it hard to link up all the country's rails, France avoided this problem by settling for a common, standardised gauge. Brunel is celebrated as a pioneering genius now -- but in his own time, his iconoclasm may have seemed aggravating to some.

One thing I wondered was whether Britain's railcars were gender-segregated. I've read that in the nineteenth century, at least some of them were, and, as depicted in Canadian author Anand Mahadevan's forthcoming novel THE STRIKE, some Indian rail companies continued with women (and children) only cars well into the late 20th century.

If you like trains and the history of the industrial revolution, you'll love THE RAILWAY VIADUCT. If technology isn't your thing, read it anyway for Marston's knowing exploration of the machinations of the human characters. Bon voyage!

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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