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The Blackpool Highflyer: A Jim Stringer Mystery (Jim Stringer Mysteries) Paperback – July 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in 1905, Martin's second Jim Stringer mystery (after 2004's The Necropolis Railway) starts slowly but builds a head of steam like the monster locomotive Jim stokes for "Lanky," the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. A passenger dies when a huge grindstone on the tracks derails a train on an excursion to seaside Blackpool. Jim begins to suspect class warfare when a young socialist distributes tracts in Jim's hometown of Halifax, urging workers to shun holidays organized by mill owners. A fallen tree on another rail line further suggests conspiracy, as does the disappearance of smartly dressed Clive, the engine driver on Jim's next run. Lanky management's paltry £5 reward hardly seems likely to garner much information, so newlywed Jim turns to comely Lydia, a mill clerk he simply calls "the wife," for much needed help. Getting used to Jim's chatty Cockney narration takes time, but as the suspense rises, readers will be captivated.
Second in the series starring Edwardian-era steam locomotives (the first was The Necropolis Railway, 2007), this has all the virtues of the first: strong background on early-twentieth-century British railroading and a suitably dark and dank atmosphere. These characteristics, however, are less compelling the second time around (except to die-hard railroad fans), as the atmosphere and pacing become somewhat overplayed and relentless. This time out, the young series hero, Jim Stringer, copilots one of the huge locomotives called Highflyers on excursion trips (in 1905) to the Blackpool seaside and music halls. The first run is disrupted by a grindstone on the tracks, causing a derailment and one woman's death; Stringer later learns that the same accident occurred on another line the same day. The tension builds as Jim must find whoever is staging the accidents before more people are killed. Martin's descriptions of old music-hall acts add some zest to the tale. This still has the makings of a strong series, if Martin can master the trick of varying the mood and tempo enough to hold his readers. Fletcher, Connie
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Top customer reviews
A leisurely tour through the texture of performing, weaving, and railway people of the time, noting odd happenings along the way that take hundreds of pages to add up to something potentially sinister. Jim is an inquisitive sort of bloke, which involves him in amateur sleuthing as the story moves along, little incidents happen, and each chapter may add a new clue or a way of looking at previous events. Do you have the patience for this style of slow plot development? Martin's garrulity cleverly misdirects your attention; even the obvious crime and the suspects are not what they seem.
There's more about English lower class life in the Edwardian age than there is of deliberate sleuthing, if that's your cuppa. Jim's mind has a peculiar talent that helps him see the criminal in ordinary happenings, like train derailments that fit a pattern he is first to notice--however incredulous I remained that he is on to anything at all. Jim's wife takes in a lodger, an eccentric railway ticket seller, and we see much about the domestic, social, work, and holiday lives of several of the people, just passing time...it seems.