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.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect