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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Somme Stations (Jim Stringer)
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2011
The Somme Stations is Andrew Martin's seventh book featuring Jim Stringer. The series usually follows Stringer's investigations as a Detective at the York office of the North Eastern Railway Police. This one though takes place during the First World War. It begins after most of the events in the book have concluded with Jim's wife writing letters to a friend as he recovers from injuries sustained during his time in France and with a murder charge hanging over him. How we got to this point is recounted in first person by Jim himself, beginning with his enlistment and followed by his war service, the tone being very like an extended letter home or a personal memoir. It's colourfully written with language authentic to the time and location, though thankfully it doesn't try to annotate the local accents. I'm a northern lad myself, of the red rose variety rather than the white, but even so books that insist on putting accent onto the page do become tedious fast unless the writer is something of a genius. The writer here keeps it simple. He builds the ensemble characters/suspects competently, choosing to focus on their little quirks and eccentricities to quickly establish the who's who. It's well done and something a bit different. Stringer retains no police rank in this book and gives a suspect's point of view to the investigation which takes a while to get started and then simmers quietly in the background as Stringer's regiment is trained, goes to France, including that fateful day, July 1st on the Somme, and later establishing a network of light railways, ferrying ammunition to artillery emplacements. Even without the mystery element to the story, the fictional war memoir is very well researched, amusing, poignant and authentic sounding. Add to that the author's obvious love for all things relating to steam locomotion and you have an unusual addition to the crime fiction genre.
This review was from an Advance Reading Copy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I think this is the seventh in the Jim Stringer - Railway Detective series. I think I read and quite enjoyed the first one, but the next five seem to have passed me by. But this one is set in the First World War and the context appealed to me to I dived in.

Stringer is swept up in the nationalistic stampede to take the King's shilling and win the war by Christmas. Joining a division of North Yorkshire Railway men Jim finds himself training alongside ex porters, drivers, and railway police. Generally they are regarded as pioneers, which seems to mean diggers and while on training in the UK, a young soldier is discovered dead. Nobody is sure if it is an accident or murder and this hangs over the men as they finally ship to France, and the Somme. Eventually they find themselves operating trains bringing munitions to the forward lines and amongst the death and mayhem, it appears that the death back in the UK is still festering with some of the men and some of them are hiding secrets.

This was good, historically sound and interesting with a real sense of atmosphere both in Britain and then in war torn France. Characterisation is excellent and the pace is perfect for you to grow with the characters and you do care when some of them don't make it and you take them at face value as Jim has to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2014
I read the first Jim Stringer book "The Necropolis Railways" when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it but hadn't realised that there was now a series of them until IO read a review of this book. Having just finished William Boyd's excellent "Waiting for sunrise" immediately beforehand I thought that this might be a bit of a let down as I couldn't put the former book down at all. Although Andrew Martin does take a while to set the scenario before the murder eventually takes place, this is a riveting piece of writing where there is a range of bizarre and unpredictable characters who go off to war and ultimately fight at the Somme with Stringer. I was intrigued by this book as I researched my great-grandfather's role in the first World War and he served in such a depot at Abancourt where he unfortunately was killed in an air raid in 1918. Having visited Abancourt, it was fascinating to read of the similar but fictional Burton Camp and to imagine what life was like there and how the site functioned.

The strange thing about this book is that it is better at being an ensemble piece with such vivid characters as a who -done-it." As someone pointed out in one of the other reviews, the mystery is perhaps too difficult to predict but the clues are littered throughout the novel even if they are so insignificant that you could be forgiven for missing them. As a crime thriller I suppose you could say this counts against the story yet it is a well-constructed plot even if it somewhat takes second stage to the compelling account of the railways serving munitions to the front line batteries with all the risks that it involved. Martin is a good story-teller and his character Jim Stringer is an excellent narrator not afraid to display his prejudices and those of the age. Despite this, it is characters like Dawson, the three butler brothers and Oamer who seem the most vivid - I like the simple minded but scary Roy and Andy Butler in whom Martin relishes in describing.

All in all, this is a rattling good read and better than I can recall the opening novel in the series. Some of the language can be a bit spicy although there is a ring of authenticity in it. I am amazed that some reviewers found this a difficult book - my regret was that the characters Martin had created were so strong that it seemed a real shame to get to the conclusion. A brilliant and entertaining read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I really enjoyed this story as it also taught me some things about the First World War which I didn't know about.
It was a great mix of war and mystery and of course about railways which I have come to know about from this author!
I always look forward to the books from Andrew Martin as he describes everything in such detail.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An interesting mix of First World War action, Detective investigation and Narrow Gauge Railways. Once again Andrew Martin has brought to life the World of Jim Stringer [Steam Detective] You can almost smell the Steam and the cordite. His loving wife Lydia always ready to help in any investigation and his railway colleagues from the North Eastern Railway. Can't wait for no;8.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2011
Well written, with considerable knowledge of the railways as you would expect from Andrew Martin. Recreated the period and the atmosphere of WW1, again as he does so well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2012
I've enjoyed several of the Jim Stringer books and this is the best. I didn't enjoy the mystery aspect nearly as much as the human story of young men going to fight in the battlefields of France during the First World War. As usual steam trains and railway stations provide a lot of the backdrop to events but with the battlefields of France looming in the background. Very good read!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2011
There are so many detective series around nowadays that an author has to search quite hard to find his or her own niche, but Andrew Martin seems to have ably colonised the world of early-20th century railways for the genre.
He clearly knows a good deal about the subject, but he wears his knowledge lightly and his novels never descend into turgid train-spotting. I think this is largely because his fascination is not so much with the hardware of the railways as the complex social structures that they were, especially the teeming life of a big city station. An example: would you have imagined that there was such a post as 'Deputy Superintendent of the Ticket Office?' Before reading this book, I wouldn't, but Andrew Martin would, and could probably tell you where in the pecking order he came in relation to a head porter or the guard on a mainline express.
The fact that the background is so interesting means that he doesn't have to try too hard to make his detective complex, so for once we're treated to a non-alcoholic crime-fighter with a happy home life - quite a rarity! Jim Stringer's main quality is - not naivety exactly, more an open-minded interest, which is useful for the reader, because the everyday world he lives in might as well be a different universe for us, so we need a pair of open eyes.
This book is rather different from the previous ones (or at least, the three I've read) in that real-life events impinge much more - which is unavoidable really, since the events take place in 1915-16.
So Jim Stringer joins up, and after a bit of digging work on an atmospherically evoked Spurn Head is sent off to the Western Front.
The bar for writing about WW1 has been raised so high by the likes of Sebastian Faulks and Pat Barker that an author has to be careful how he treads. However, even more so than a large railway, an army is a hugely complex organism with plenty of angles as yet unexplored. Here, of course, Andrew Martin takes the construction and operation of the narrow-gauge railways which served the front line, and shows the precarious lives of the men driving trainloads of high explosives through an artillery attack.
The work proceeds at breakneck pace - 'Old Station' is so-called because it was built 10 days ago! - and there's no guarantee that the line will still be there tomorrow, or even for the return trip later today.
The plot itself is workmanlike enough, involving life both before and during the war, and the railway as well as the army, and Jim Stringer even finds himself in danger of being tried for his life. This for me was largely incidental though, as I was absorbed in the recreation of a vanished world.
One tiny quibble, which mainly accounts for the loss of a star, but which I would expect to be sorted in a later edition: in two or three places the name 'Tinsley' is used when the author clearly means 'Harvey.' Did the author maybe switch the names halfway through and not quite complete the rework? It wouldn't really matter, except that as you'll see when you read it, it's quite important to keep the two characters separate in your mind!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2012
The Somme Stations is the seventh Jim Stringer railway detective series and the first I've read. It can certainly be read as a standalone. The strength of the book is in placing the reader in the lives of a small group of men as they go through their training and onwards to the frontline, and the historical detail concerning the use of miniature railway system to transport ammunition and supplies along the front. The lead character is rather unassuming character and relatively uncharismatic, which I found a somewhat welcome change to some detective series. He is surrounded by a motley crew of characters that are well penned. Where I had problems was with respect to the plot. The book has a ponderous start and a weak end. In fact, with the exception of the time on Spurn Head, the time in Blighty (the beginning and end) felt flat and listless. The ending in particular didn't work for me. At one point, one of the characters said something like, 'You worked it out from that?', pretty much as I was thinking the same thing. The mystery element relies on unlikely coincidences, an unlikely confession in terms of location, and leaps of imagination, and it's hard to believe that Stringer suddenly developed a Poirot-like mind. I also think the book would have also been stronger if it had been written in the third person. It would have allowed the narrator more scope to describe and explain both the main plot and to contextualise the First World War. Overall, the bulk of the book, especially the time in France, was an engaging and informative read and made the book worth reading; it was just a shame that the mystery wasn't quite up to scratch.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2012
After abandoning numerous books full of flashbacks, dream sequences, streams of consciousness etc. it was a sheer joy to come across this which had a beginning, middle and end,(in that order), a set of well drawn characters, and a page-turning plot.
Bluff Yorkshireman Jim Stringer, coolly observes his fellow volunteers (also largely from Oop North) and solves a murder (or two)committed by one of them against the backdrop of the Battle of the Somme. All this whilst being a major suspect himself. The author writes with a thoroughly engaging style and even manages to make the world of narrow gauge railways interesting! Thoroughly recommended.
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