Murder on the Pneumatic Railway

Written by Lisa M. Lane
Review by Fiona Alison

Surgeon Samson Light is in the Clerkenwell House of Detention, awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit. A post office worker’s body was found in a pneumatic railway car in a non-operational tunnel. A witness says Samson had a heated argument with the murder victim that morning. Tommy, the ward of retired Detective Inspector Slaughter, was tutored by Samson and considers him a loyal friend, so he asks around on behalf of lawyer Perseverance Stone, who is in need of an investigator. The clues take Tommy to Durham.

This series imparts a more balanced view of women in Victorian London, and the author succeeds admirably with her cast of unique female characters, who are much more than docile pawns shuttered by men. Information about medical ailments, surgery, jails, mining, engineering, fulling, carpet manufacture, and London, as well as pneumatic railways and the post office, make clear how deeply the author cares for her subject. I did wonder at Tommy leaving several jobs without notice, and why he didn’t ask Perseverance for travel money, but these are small quibbles.

Overall, this is a very well written, deeply researched story in which, for this reader, the mystery itself is less compelling than the characters and the wealth of information blended throughout the novel. This third in a cosy mystery series is an excellent addition which alludes to previous cases, but can stand satisfactorily alone, with overlapping characters from previous books. There is an endearing innocence about Tommy, in fact even the bad guys here aren’t that bad and the novel ends happily. The secondary story about the illustrator, Jo, and her newfound family doesn’t fit at first, but Lane brings all her threads neatly together by the end. A definite for readers interested in Victorian England.