Peril on the Royal Train

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Scotland, 1858. Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming are back on their tenth case. A goods train has been deliberately derailed by unknown perpetrators, leaving a trail of devastation, three men dead, and a damaged reputation for the Caledonian Railway Company, whose line it is. There are a number of possible suspects: a rival railway company with much to gain; a group of angry Sabbatarians, determined to stop Sunday travel; not to mention various scavengers who see railway accidents as opportunities for plunder and profit. But, as Colbeck and Leeming delve more deeply, an uglier possibility rears its head. Could the perpetrators be aiming to assassinate the royal family itself, en route for their summer visit to Balmoral? And time is running out. Inspector Colbeck is in Scotland at the special request of the Caledonian Railway’s General Manager, Nairn Craig – an invitation thoroughly resented by the Superintendent of Railway Police, Rory McTurk, who sees it as trespassing on his territory. He’s been told to cooperate but he’s determined to unmask the perpetrators himself – but would he go so far as to conceal importance evidence from Colbeck?

Peril on the Royal Train is exactly what a traditional whodunit should be; railway fiction fans especially should love it. The historical research is impeccable and cleverly woven into the story. The red herrings are eminently plausible. I particularly liked the way that Colbeck’s employer back in London was infuriated at losing his best detective and causes Inspector Colbeck quite as many problems as the obstructive McTurk. The minor, though important, character of Jamie Farr, a shepherd with an abiding hatred of railways, is realistically and sympathetically drawn and provides the book with an intriguing subplot. The book thunders along at a cracking pace; it certainly kept this reader on the edge of her seat.