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Author of the Month

Name: Andrew Martin

First Novel: Bilton/1st Jim Stringer - The Necropolis Railway

Most Recent Book: The Baghdad Railway Club

'...Martin has given us another, even better adventure that simply never runs out of steam.'

Synopsis:
Jim Stringer, erstwhile railway detective, is now elevated to army officer rank after some brave work on the Western Front. It is 1917 and Jim has been posted to Baghdad for some undercover work investigating treasonous activities. His superiors have asked him to look into the activities of his boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Shepherd. Baghdad is a very unsettled city, now occupied by the British after the expulsion of the Turks, and with an Arab population not too disposed to anyone. Jim arrives in the sweltering hot city for an official job as assistant to Colonel Shepherd but with a hidden assignation with an undercover agent. He makes the rendezvous, only to find to find his point of contact brutally murdered.

Jim is on his own and trying to make sense of the activities and motives of his fellow British soldiers. Colonel Shepherd runs a dining club called The Baghdad Railway Club, and indeed most of those who attend have an esoteric interest in railways. The suspicion that Colonel Shepherd is actually a Turkish spy looking after Turkish interests is supported by his sympathetic views aired at the Club.

As well as working on the railways around Baghdad, Jim finds out about plots and intrigues involving Turkish spies, valuable jewels, jealous lovers and despairing soldiers. A femme fatale in the guise of a beautiful British archaeologist complicates matters and throughout the story Jim is plagued both by the heat and the ever present flies.

Review:
Jim Stringer is a self-contained hero. He knows his strengths and is aware of the class differences evident when he mixes with the officer class. But this is war and times are changing. He is confident in doing the right thing and able to cast an outsiderís eye on the relationships between his fellow officers. Some of them underestimate him and that proves to be their mistake. This is an excellent story and I enjoy Jimís character developing and proving his worth.

Jimís voice deflates the pomposity of the elite, and his comments on what he sees are both insightful and humorous. The wry humour throughout the book is one of the pleasures of this series. Even his relationship with his wife is full of comments on her social attitudes. A supporter of the co-operative movement and of the Suffragettes, she still enjoys her husbandís move up in the social world and is planning a private education for her son. Superficially Jim is somewhat dismissive of his wife but the overall impression is that they have a good relationship, if not a romantic one.

Having won the Ellis Peters award for best Historical in 2011 with the excellent ĎThe Somme Stationsí amazingly Martin has given us another, even better adventure that simply never runs out of steam. Like the proverbial train, this novel keeps to its path and is relentless until it reaches its final destination. This book is crammed with the sounds, scent and feel of the place and time and is an enticing series that will transport you deep in to the past.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Was it an interest in railways, the age of the early twentieth century or a love of Yorkshire that made you start writing the Jim Stringer series?
All three. Iím from Yorkshire, so Iím stuck with that, and I practically grew up on a train, given that my dad worked on BR, and I had free travel. First Class! I retained that perk as long as I was a dependent of his (i.e. a student), so I made sure I remained a dependent until I was twenty-six.
2) Although Jim is strictly a Yorkshire lad, he does move about a bit. Have you first hand experience of northern France or Turkey?
Well, in 'Lost Luggage Porter' he goes to Paris, my favourite place on earth (after Scarborough). In 'The Somme Stations', he goes to Northern France to fight on the Western Front, and I have been to the formerly-frontline town of Albert. It was lunchtime when the train from Paris put me off there, and everything was closed. Lunchtime in Albert carries on for about three hours, I should explain. Thereís a museum in the town, and itís dedicated to the SECOND World War (not the first, which I was writing about). I got in there ten minutes before it closed for lunch, and it has an incredibly loud soundtrack of falling shells, and that was a big help for the book. As for Turkey, yes Iíve been to Istanbul, but in 'The Baghdad Railway Club', Jim is mainly in Baghdad, and Iíve never been there. I wrote the book from a German map of Baghdad in 1917, which I pinned over my desk for six months.
3) I am intrigued by Jimís relationship with his wife. At one level he is quite dismissive of her ideas, yet on another level he seems quite proud of her. Do you see this relationship as typical of the time or as an example of Jimís personality?
Sheís cleverer than him, and rather looks down on him. I was tired of all these women in crime novels who worship the detective. Thatís obviously wish fulfilment on the part of the men who write them. Then again, so is Jimís wife, but I hope in a way that actual women might like.
4) What will Jim do once the war is over? Events have changed him and it might be difficult for him to return to the railways cop he was originally.
He will go to India.
5) Do you have any plans for a book not involving Jim Stringer and if so would it involve railways?
Lots of plans Ė itís just a question of whether anyone will give me the money to write them. Thatís not to say I donít like Jim. So far, he has elicited my best writing.
6) What qualities was it about Jim Stringer that made you pick him as your series hero?
Downbeat, decent, droll, Northern, semi-alcoholic, romantic, dogged, a close observer of character.
7) You won the CWA Ellis Peters Award for ĎThe Somme Stationsí. How did it feel to win?
One of the best evenings Iíve had. It was held at the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall Ė in the library Ė and when I approached the club from St James Park I could see all these smart people sort of silhouetted in the window. After the result was announced, I remember the lovely Alex Holroyd, who does publicity at Faber, saying, ĎWould you like another glass of champagne, Andrew?í Later, I smoked a cigar in St James Park. When I got home, my wife, Lisa, said, ĎWell?í and I just pulled the cheque out of my inside pocket.
8) How much research is needed before you feel you can start a Jim Stringer novel?
Slightly more than the advances justify.
9) Historical crime fiction is a sub-genre that is currently doing well. What do
The past was more beautiful. Take the Edwardian period: no plastic, no man-made fibres, no McDonalds. It was also more atmospheric: all those real fires, gaslight. A novel must envelop you atmospherically. You must know what the light is doing, and thatís easier with a historical novel. I suppose I could describe the light in a McDonalds., but I donít want to. Then again, of course, life expectancy was about forty-five in Edwardian times, so Iíd be dead by now. Itís a decadent taste that might increase in time of recession, when people want to retreat into a different kind of horrible-ness.
10) What would you say would be your top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Greenmantle by John Buchan.