The Circus Train Conspiracy

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Nancy Henshaw

In 1860, the railways are opening up England and Wales to all classes of men and women. It is a time of ruthless competition amongst the new railway companies as tracks are laid down piecemeal. Moscardi’s Magnificent Circus—including three lions, superb Arab horses and Rosie the elephant—are travelling north, enjoying this new, fast and comfortable form of transport. When a shattering disruption leaves the train derailed, only Jacko, the capuchin monkey, escapes from the trapped and terrified menagerie. Following him with enticing treats, Mulryne, Moscardi’s man-of-all-work, stumbles on the shallow grave of a murdered woman. She proves to be Margaret Pulver, a woman widely regarded as saintly. Hot-tempered circus owner Moscardi is certain that his greatest rival, Sam Greenstreet, is responsible for the accident but Robert Colbeck, the police detective is puzzled: it could have been much worse—the incident occurred where damage was minimal, and the Circus didn’t even miss a single performance at its next venue. Further happenings seem to indicate more mischief than crime. With an enormous number of uncooperative, sometime hostile suspects, these are frustrating investigations, but there is plenty of rail travel for Colbeck, with his handy copy of Bradshaw’s timetable and reliable trains.

The heroes of this story are the indomitable members of a travelling circus who have to be on top form however dire the situations, but the railways themselves bring a romantic picture of those thundering monsters and the supremacy of steam. The accomplished author provides easy reading in his multi-viewpoint story of a fascinating time when England’s ancient landscape changed forever.