December 1860. The morning shift at Swindon Locomotive Works is about to begin and an army of men is pouring out of the nearby terraced houses built by the GWR. Frank Rodman should have been among them, but he is destined for the grave sooner than he might have expected, or he will be, once his missing head is found.
But Christmas is fast approaching, and the last thing Inspector Colbeck needs is a complex case, mired in contradictions. As he wrestles with one crime, he is alarmed to hear of another – the abduction of Superintendent Tallis. Colbeck and Leeming find themselves in a hectic race to solve a brutal murder before rushing off to Kent in a bid to save the superintendent’s life.
I know, I know, it’s Christmas Day, I’m supposed to be on holiday, but after you’ve stuffed your face with turkey and roast tatties, chocolates and sweets, what do you do on Christmas Day? There’s very little of worth on the television and I can’t stand being around people for too long. It was nice spending a few hours with my sister and her partner, especially since they fed me and bought me pressies, but by four I was ready for home.
And home I came, to snuggle up in my pyjamas, with my new badger thermal socks on to keep my feet warm (this house is ridiculous cold) and read. I chose this appropriately Christmassy title, since I’d studiously avoided taking part in any Christmas themed blog tours this year. Sorry peeps, I just don’t like soppy romances with a Christmas theme. Give me bloody murder any day.
Being me, I decided to take a chance and email Allison & Busby about reviewing some of their recent and new titles. Susie said yes, and I got a parcel on Friday. I read the blurb for this one and thought ‘ooh, I like the sound of that’, it’s a relatively recent book and it is seasonal. So here we are.
I have just spent 5 hours in Swindon in 1860. It was cold and noisy. But then what would one expect from a railway works? Have I mentioned my love of trains before? I know very little about them, but I like travelling on them. And I love steam trains.
Focus, Rosie, focus. Review book, dream about steam trains later.
Life in Swindon New Town, the railway village built by Great Western Railways is hard and lived by the clock. Depending on wages families live in houses built for them by the company – lower paid workers in two room cottages, the better off in three storey houses – all watched over by the railway policeman and the general manager. The men go to work at the Works in the morning and come home twelve hours later, they drink in the pub built for them, send their children to the school built for them, on a Saturday evening they take their wives to the Mechanics’ Institution for a concert and on a Sunday morning they go to St. Marks’ church, also built by the company, to listen to Mr. Laws’ sermon and give thanks for their jobs and GWR.
Until one morning a man is found decapitated in the foundry, his head missing, along with his clothes, and his hands and feet bound in an attitude of prayer. Management call in Scotland Yard and the famous Railway Detective, Inspector Colbert, a former solicitor turned police officer. Along with Colbert comes Sergeant Leeming, a man of less exulted background, but really good in a fight.
They find themselves in Swindon with ten days to go to Christmas and bad weather pressing in, with a difficult victim – a man of contrasts, a loving father and husband on Sunday when he sang in the church choir, and a loudmouthed, bullying drunk who ignored his children and kept his wife short of housekeeping money Monday to Saturday – and an even more difficult case. There’s no evidence at the scene but it’s obvious the murderer must be among the workers, or at least a person who knows the Works well and wouldn’t be out of place. Te two men set to work interviewing suspects and sifting the evidence.
Back in London, Superintendent Tallis, formerly of the British Army, is attending a Regimental reunion in Kent, and leaving the ignorant, superior, selfish, and sly, Inspector Grovesnor in charge. Grovesnor and Colbert do not get on and the temporary Superintendent starts to meddle in the murder case, until Tallis, visiting a friend near Canterbury, goes missing.
Colbert and Leeming must solve a murder, rescue the boss and get home in time for Christmas. And if they can set D.C. Hinton up with Madeleine Colbert’s friend Lydia at the same time, it’d be appreciated, not least by Maddie and Lydia.
I have never read any of the author’s other books, which is surprising, since he’s written over a hundred and most of them are historical crime novels. This is a gross oversight on my part. The characters and descriptions of time and place are immersive, they really pull the reader into the story. The plot is complex and answer surprising, although the clues are there once you realise. I enjoyed the subplot of Tallis’ kidnapping and Grovesnor’s incompetency in attempting to rescue him and interfere in Colbert’s case. Everyone gets what they deserve. It’s a very cosy ending to a traditional sort of mystery.
The writing is strong and authorial voice clear; the historical details give a feeling of authenticity, the author as clearly done his research; and the characters of Colbert and Leeming are interesting. They work well together in their contrasts.
If you enjoy Agatha Christie-type historical/cosy/mystery/crime novels, I recommend this one.