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The Lost Luggage Porter: A Jim Stringer Mystery (Jim Stringer Mysteries) Paperback – January 7, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Martin's riveting third Jim Stringer mystery (after 2007's The Blackpool Highflyer) finds Jim newly made detective for the North Eastern Railway at York station in 1906. His first day starts ominously when a hotel porter's throat is cut and Stringer's prized copies of Railways Magazine go missing. The latter mishap takes him to the lost luggage office, where gospel-quoting porter Edwin Lund tells Stringer about a pickpocket ring working the railways. After two brothers are found shot in the rail yard, Stringer goes undercover as hapless Allan Appleby, joining two men Lund calls Brains and Blocker in lifting wallets while preparing for the big one. Stringer's suffragist wife remains home awaiting childbirth, and Stringer, dreading the financial needs of parenthood, finds himself thinking about keeping some of Allan's ill-gotten gains. Plenty of action, plot twists and moral quandaries help this engaging mystery pick up steam.
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UK PRAISE FOR THE LOST LUGGAGE PORTER
"The best sleuth that 200 years of the railways have ever produced." —The Independent (London)
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE NECROPOLIS RAILWAY
"Martin’s debut, loaded with railway lore, pairs a lively, often macabre look at turn-of-the-century London with a bang-up mystery." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Top customer reviews
The best things about the book are its terrific historical research, its wonderful sense of place, and its brooding and fascinating atmosphere. Martin has not only done his homework, he has a tremendous eye for historical detail. The book would make a good movie on that basis alone; the "you are there" sense goes a long way towards establishing tension.
Tension is also established by a pretty good sense of pacing. Our hero is forced out of his comfort zone quickly, always a good thing. Forces stronger than he is loom inexorably. Stuff happens, and it leaves you anticipating the next stuff to happen.
The thing is, though, that a lot of the stuff that happens isn't (in the end) very relevant. The plotting here is ... well, I'll be generous and dub it "adequate". Jim, our hero, does nothing--literally *nothing*--on his own initiative until page 244. He tags meekly along, doing what he's told by a variety of secondary characters. And after his one brief burst of competence, he sinks back into inertness for the rest of the book.
Nor are the events Jim somnambulates through especially compelling. The criminals' plot is quotidian and unimaginative. There are no surprises, nothing unexpected. There are a number of severe anticlimaxes, particularly the one Jim heroically defeats the villainous menacing thugs because *they don't bother to show up*.
And the only way that Martin can find to establish tension leading up to that point is to rely on the character being too stupid to think of using a telephone, or telegraph, for some hours. That's a sign of a book that's escaped its author's control.
The characterization is fair. It's first-person narration, so the character whom we see most of is Jim Stringer himself. Jim has enough different sides to his personality to be interesting, although his thwarted desire to be an engine driver is laid on a bit thick. Most of the other characters, particularly "the wife", get short shrift.
Me, I'm a train nut, so I liked the book on that basis alone. If you like trains, particularly English railways in the age of steam, you'll have a hard time disliking _The Lost Luggage Porter_. If you like suspense, particularly suspense where the hero is constantly at the mercy of events outside his control, you'll probably like it as well. If you have a good visual imagination, that's another plus.
All the same, Andrew Martin could write much better books than this if he combined his impeccable research and descriptive gifts with attention to the dull, straitlaced, nuts-and-bolts, unromantic techniques--the *craft*, in other words--of storytelling.
When a hotel porter at the Station Hotel in York is found with his throat cut, and soon afterward the Cameron brothers, "Brilliantine" and "Crackpot," whom Stringer has encountered in a snooker parlor, are shot to death near the York goods yard, the seemingly quiet life off the footplate suddenly ratchets up. Stringer goes undercover to trace the "bad lads" and those masterminds putting them up to crime. Wearing an old suit and a pair of spectacles from which he has removed the lenses, Stringer believes that no one will recognize him from his former jobs on the railroad. (Oddly, he also believes that a pair of glasses with no lenses will fool everyone into thinking they are real.)
He insinuates himself into a gang run by Valentine Sampson and Miles Hopkins, and each night returns home to his loving wife Lydia, who types up his reports for Weatherill. Lydia, a suffragist, pregnant with their first baby, due in a month, does not look forward to motherhood. Stringer's discovery that the gang plans to rob a safe containing the wages of railroad men who have been out on strike leads to additional complications when the use of acetylene torches creates emergencies.
Martin creates a broad panorama of York life in 1906, concentrating on life in the railways as they dominate the life of the community. The 23-year-old Stringer, while not fully realized, is still a character with whom the reader will develop sympathy. The slang of the railroad and of the period may be disconcerting for readers initially, but as the story develops, the unfamiliar language becomes less of a problem and adds significantly to the atmosphere. Filled with local color, Lost Luggage Porter provides a fascinating glimpse of life in 1906 as the railroads become the link to the future. The story creates an indelible portrait of ordinary existence and its values--a must for any railroad buff! n Mary Whipple