Signal for Vengeance

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1860, Wimborne, Dorset. When Rebecca Tullidge, downtrodden wife of a railway signalman, creeps out one night to visit her railway policeman lover, John Bedloe, she is horrified to find his corpse on the railway tracks. The murder of a railway policeman is viewed seriously, and Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming are summoned from London to solve the crime. They soon learn that Bedloe had plenty of enemies as well as several mistresses. There is no shortage of suspects but, in this close-knit society, nobody is talking. Colbeck has other pressures, too. His wife, Madeleine, is expecting their first child and he’s desperate to solve the crime and get back home for the birth.

I always enjoy Marston’s Railway Detective adventures; he obviously knows exactly how the mid-Victorian railway system worked and is good at getting across a sense of place. He paints a vivid picture of Wimborne as a country town where local landowners are more concerned about poaching than railway crime. He understands the narrow options open to women at that date; there is little scope for them to be proactive, they can only react. Rebecca manages to have a furtive affair but, with a violent and suspicious husband, her personal safety is always at risk. My one niggle is with Madeleine being rushed to the London General Lying–in Hospital with birth complications. A middle-class woman in 1860 would have done anything to keep out of a public hospital where the hygiene was appalling and ‘a woman increased her chances of death in childbirth six-fold by entering a London lying-in hospital.’ (1878 report) Instead, she would have paid for an experienced midwife.  However, that’s one small scene. Overall, Signal for Vengeance is both historically accurate and a terrific read, sure to appeal to Marston’s many fans.