FABER £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin

A steamy whodunnit about a world going off the rails

Few large towns are more miserably served by the railway than Blackpool. No expresses make the trip to London any more: Virgin's accountants saw to that. The connection from Preston to what used to be Blackpool Central is a converted Leyland bus. Central Station, the busiest in Europe in 1905, when this book is set, has long since been demolished.

The decline of the railway has paralleled the slide of the town, now a kind of mausoleum of the Great British Seaside Holiday. The crowning indignity came this year, when the Labour and Tory parties abandoned it for conferences after a torrent of complaints about ante-diluvian boarding houses and austerity cuisine.

Back in the Edwardian heyday of Andrew Martin's novel, it was all different. The Tower, the highest structure in the land, was a beacon to the toilers of the mill towns and suggestive, like its Paris counterpart, of the hedonistic delights of the Continent. From Heckmondwike and Halifax, from Huddersfield and Hebden Bridge, the railways took them in their hundreds of thousands for a hard-won Wakes Week by the sea, and something a bit saucy and glamorous.

So surprise then that at the head of the doomed excursion to Blackpool around which the plot revolves, should be the finest locomotive the mighty Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway could offer: "The Highflyers were high boiler, high wheel rims and high everything, including speed ... It was a hard job to make them shine, but you never saw one not gleaming."

All the more tragic when it came off the rails because of a grindstone placed on the track. But by whom? The book is constructed artfully on several levels. On the one hand it is a steamy whodunnit (literally) from an era when railway culture ran deep. From the whiff of steam to the clank of couplings, the authentic detail is plentiful.

But the psychology is modern. We are in L P Hartley "Go-Between" country here - in the years before the Great War when things were on the brink of "going wrong". The boss was in his castle, literally in the case of Hind's Mill whose works outing was derailed. But the old order was changing, and plenty of folk were around with motive to wreck a train.

Enter Jim Stringer, our decent northern working-class hero whom we have met before in Martin's previous novel, The Necropolis Railway. The fireman on the doomed train, he is a progressive young man, straight from the pages of Raymond Williams or Richard Hoggart, who becomes obsessed by the death of a young woman mill worker on the train. Whether Jim solves the mystery you must read the book to find out - but you are unlikely to be disappointed.

It is astonishing that in this 200th anniversary year of the railways that they have featured so little in fiction. Subtract Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and Patricia Highsmith, and we're not left with much. This may well be the best fiction about the railways since Dickens' "The Signalman" in 1865. And that was a short story.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on