The Somme Stations

Written by Andrew Martin
Review by Karen Wintle

It is 1914, and the First World War has started. When a notice is pinned up in the railway police office in York announcing the formation of the North Eastern Railway Battalion, Detective Sergeant Jim Stringer feels he must do his patriotic duty and enlist in what would become known as The Railway Pals. Both friendships and enmities have been born among the supposed pals, and even before they have departed for France, a member of Jim’s unit has been found dead, the body horribly battered.

This is a book both about life at the front in the Somme and a mystery surrounding the death of one of Jim’s fellow soldiers. The author, who obviously has a great love of trains and train driving, weaves both together with the odd touch of wry humour. It is written in the first person, so immediately you feel yourself involved and with the conversational tone of Jim Stringer this moves the book along at a good pace.

The Railway Pals are modelled on historical record, and the vision of war, mud and the pining for cigarettes while stuck in the trenches must be grounded in reality too. What I liked about this book, and I’m not a great lover of trains, was the way the mystery story kept pace with the action of war. It simmers on the back burner for a while, and then the pace is cranked up and it keeps your attention, following the little clues laid all along as to who killed one of the friends. A good read.