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4.4 out of 5 stars39
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on 6 October 2007
December, 1909, and another delightful jouney with young Jim Stringer, 'Steam Detective'. Mr Martin creates a world to match that of Holmes with the rattling cabs of Baker Street replaced by the rattling carriages of the Great Western and beyond.

A body is found and Jim, on the threshold of promotion, believes it is a murder case, not the suicide it seems. Helped (?) by a newshound and impeded by both his previous boss and his new one, it is Jim's determination and doggedness that see him through rather than his deductive powers. His investigations take him on thrilling journeys across the winter landscapes of England and into trouble in the highlands of Scotland, long before Richard Hannay ever bought his ticket for a similar journey.

Despite the tension and thrills and the convoluted (and most unlikely) puzzle of a plot, there is much wit and humour and the descriptions and dialogue are pefectly pitched for the time. I've enjoyed all the Steam detective books and perhaps the plot of this one leans toward some of those more creaky ones that Watson recorded but Jim's relationships with those around him carry the story more than the plot. Anyway, it's rare that such a yarn gives the best line to a horse. First Class.
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on 8 November 2011
Nothing better that a good whoodunit thriller for those seemingly long days and nights that between Christmas Day and New Years Eve, and what better than one that, amazingly, sets the bulk of its action right here in East Cleveland - the little bit of the UK that this writer comes from and where he lives, an area that Andrew martin christens the 'Ironlands'.

You should best read this book in the evenings, when the distant rumble and vibration of the trains bringing wagon loads of potash along the winding line from the Boulby Mine to Saltburn can be heard across the dark fields and back streets.

All of this is a hopelessly long-winded way of saying that I was well disposed to Andrew Martin's novel, Murder at Deviation Junction, featuring "Jim Stringer, Steam Detective", a mystery set largely both in the mining villages of East Cleveland and Middlesbrough in the gaslit week running up to Christmas 1909.

Jim Stringer, is a member of the North East Railway Police, based at York Station, and whose normal mundane day to day work is chasing fare dodgers and luggage thieves, is returning to York the long way round via Whitby from a fruitless trip to Middlesbrough where he had been pursuing an early version of the football hooligan, and finds himself stuck in snow at Deviation Junction (a thinly disguised Carlin How) where he is on hand to witness the finding of a corpse of a man in an unused lineside hut.

Being ambitious - and up for a promotion to Detective Sergeant, something which also carries the prospect of placating his rather pushy wife, he decides to investigate the case despite being off his patch geographically and finding himself in conflict with his bullying boss.

In this he colludes with the Edwardian proto-beer monster Stephen Bowman, an itinerant reporter for The Railway Rover Magazine, and their trail leads to the mystery of the collective demise of a group of Teesside industrialists and local gentry, men who previously travelled to their Middlesbrough offices in the exclusive confines of their own Club class carriage. The pen portraits of these men, mine owners, shipping agents, ironmasters and lawyers, is one I can recognise from the history of our past, and the description of the fine old Middlesbrough Royal Exchange - a fine old building now sadly lost to the A66 flyover, and the centre of these men's professional life - is gripping.

The investigation of the disappearance of these men, and the body at Carlin How, now roves further abroad with Jim Stringer going from an over the border pub in Middlesbrough to London's Fleet Street and thence on to the far North of Scotland before the eventual cliff hanging ending at - of all places - the railway viaduct above Kilton Beck and Skinningrove Village on a snowy Christmas eve.

In this adventure, no-one is what they seem - certainly amongst Jim Stringer's police colleagues - and cross and double cross is the order of the day. Indeed, Jim puts both his job and his marriage on the line to pursue the murderers, but at the end the case is simply and finally an open and shut one (and that's the only clue I will give).

This book should be on every Teessider's stocking list.
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on 26 August 2013
Middlesbrough may seem an unlikely setting for a first rate historical crime story but that is exactly what it is in "Murder at Deviation Junction". Set in the dark days before a Christmas in the early years of last century the atmosphere of industrial Middlesbrough (Ironopolis, "The Infant Hercules" )
and the iron mining communities in the neighbouring Cleveland Hills is splendidly evoked as Jim Stringer, frustrated engine driver reluctantly turned railway detective, attempts to untangle the mystery of a dead man found in a deserted, snowbound platelayers' cabin. It could be suicide, but Jim has his doubts and starts his investigation.

So begins a trail that leads to London and to the Scottish Highlands and nothing is quite what it seems as surprise follows surprise, but in the end it is the railway and its workings that provide the clues. Reminiscent in some ways of the breathless action of "The Thirty Nine Steps" ( but far more real) and set against both Jim's home life with his loving but unconventionally minded wife and his fractious relationships with his colleagues in the York railway police office, this is a great story that will keep you gripped to the end of the line.
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on 1 August 2011
Another fine and pacy book from a writer who brings his world to life. Such is the detail that I found myself getting hold of a period street map of Whitby just to follow the route from West Cliff to Town Station. It's all great nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember even the final days of steam. Slam doors, window straps, string racks for luggage and being able to kick off your boots and sleep on the horsehair bench seats on the overnight to London.Wonderful.
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on 11 September 2007
The whodunnit is an extremely popular format, but for me it's always spoiled by the clichéd denouement in which the detective (of whatever era) gathers all the suspects together and says something like "You may be wondering why I've asked you all here...." or some such device. Plotting also tends to be a bit far fetched - if it wasn't, there wouldn't be a story and the book would be finished within half a dozen pages. "Bloke gets drunk in pub and stabs somebody who upsets him then gets arrested." does not a detective novel make.

The only thing which makes whodunnits palatable for me are those which are set against specific historical contexts, e.g.C J Sansom's "Shardlake" novels or even Umberto Eco's "Name Of The Rose". This is how I first came across Andrew Martin's Jim Stringer books, starting with "The Necropolis Railway". Being somewhat romantically attached to the Age of Steam, I enjoyed this and the subsequent novels in the series; the character of Jim Stringer, the social background of his marriage to a "modern" woman; the progress of his career, the railway atmosphere and I even found the plots fairly believable.

I enjoyed "Murder at Deviation Junction" very much for all the above reasons, right up to the point at which the plot was revealed. I just didn't believe it and it seemed a flimsy basis for the drama (and it is certainly dramatic) that had gone before. This rather spoiled the experience for me, and did give me cause to consider whether I would buy the next in the series, presuming of course that there is one.

But perhaps I'm exaggerating the importance of the plot: the writing's terrific, the characters are believable (at least up to the end),the action is pretty much non-stop, and for 99% of the time I thought this was a great read. So I'm only going to knock off one star to reflect my disappointment.
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on 25 September 2014
I have read many of the Jim Stringer novels, not in chronological number which I thought might have been a problem - but was not. Once I had got used to the first person rather direct and sometimes vaguely crude style I must say I was enthralled by the read! For me the enjoyment was not so much the plot/ whodunit aspect, which I usually have trouble grasping even with the simplest of plots, but in trying to unravel Stringers complex and quite often contradictory personality brought on by his desire to be a footplateman. Clearly his intellect and ambitious wife drives him in a totally different direction. Actually something I relate to!

Andrew Martin evokes that period powerfully and having read his tome on the Tube I can see where his authoritative narratives on railway life in the early 1900s comes from. One thing though, were married couples quite so explicit with expressing their sexual desires then!
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on 11 September 2013
The combination of steam railways in a bygone era, plus a good plot with tension, twists and turns and, of course the character of Jim Stringer, makes this a very enjoyable read and a book not to be missed. The author's style is interesting, informative and descriptive and provides a complete mental picture of the situations and scenarios for the reader.
A very enjoyable read for all ages.
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on 23 February 2014
This is excellent. Although the plot has a slightly implausible foundation, it is devious in the extreme, and very well handled by the author.
Jim Stringer I continue to like as a man, and Andrew Martin cleverly brings out all his hero's human failings, as well as his strengths, as a man and as a detective - not forgetting his Yorkshire grit. It amazes me that several reviewers find that they cannot take to him. It's a delight to see him interact with his lackadaisical but competent Chief, and to watch him punching above his weight with his wife, the splendid Lydia.
I found myself, as always, attracted to the railway setting, and it certainly doesn't make this novel arcane or difficult to keep up with. On the contrary, it adds to the quality and the veracity.
As with the previous novels in the series, the characterisation is excellent and original. There is a decided maturity in some of the writing, especially in the final two chapters. An understated but potent strain of comedy suffuses the novel and makes its presence felt at the most unexpected moments.
Stringer has my complete loyalty and I shall continue to read these novels in sequence.
Nice one, Jim!
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on 20 January 2013
This is the third book by Andrew Martin that I have read. It is up to the usual high standards portraying life on the railways in Edwardian Britain. I find the stories interesting to read with historical detail of the period yet light enough to enjoy at any time. The stories will be especially interesting to readers who may love railways and period fiction.
Very weel done
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on 29 September 2008
I liked his first one and was disappointed by the next two. On the verge of giving up I tried this one and found he was back on track -well, almost. He can write well - his descriptions of the ironworks and the snow scenes really made me feel I was there - but the spurious trip to Scotland was a huge waste of space. It seemed that it was there purely to show off his knowledge of railway timetabling...

And I really wish I could like his hero. It's just that, well, he's just not that likeable. But, maybe that'll change next time.
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