I'm amazed that no-one else has given this 5 stars yet. For me, it is that rare thing, a book in which every single page was a pleasure to read.
Jim Stringer is a wonderful, likeable character - not a "dull old plod" as someone said. He's young, not old, for a start, and an intelligent, working-class railwayman with a vividly described life of his own. Through his eyes, we see his relationships: with his wife - a great, sassy character - with the engine driver, Clive, he of the natty suits and well-polished boots - with his plump and slightly mysterious lodger - with the sinister long-haired anarchist Paul etc.
We get a picture of Halifax in 1905, of holiday Blackpool, of the music hall, of the great weaving mills, of the local pubs, and of course, of the steam railway. I found it all fascinating and beautifully written. The images he uses are unusual and compelling. For instance, he describes the sound of a barrel-organ as like someone kicking bottles along a street and somehow managing to make a tune. That just does it for me - I can hear that barrel-organ play!
I found the description of the first trip on the Highflyer steam-engine utterly thrilling and compelling - the way he details the landmarks flashing by, the heat and sweat of stoking the firebox, even the way that particular engine rolls so that it is like dancing on the footplate to keep their balance - I felt I was there with Jim and the driver.
I'm not a railway buff or a steam fanatic but I enjoyed the railway element very much. OK, I might not have exactly understood every single reference to things like vacuum brakes or the spectacle glass - but the gist of the action is always quite clear. And, hey, this is the internet - I'm sure there are explanations of the technical aspects if anyone wants to look them up! Do we have to be spoon-fed?
If you want your fiction crammed full of violence, horror and nightmarish images, as so much modern writing is, then you probably won't like this book. Personally, I'm sick of nightmares. I want to enjoy my reading and with this book I did. I shall be seeking out Jim Stringer again.
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