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P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters
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Murder at Deviation Junction (Jim Stringer Series #4)

Murder at Deviation Junction  - Andrew Martin The beginning of Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin for some reason reminded me of a Hayao Miyazaki movie, which doesn’t make sense because the acclaimed Japanese anime director’s movies and the story of a English train detective solving a murder would seem to have little in common. But anyone familiar with Miyazaki knows his love of the Victorian steam age in his movies such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Sky, which are filled with belching fire metal monstrosities.Deviation Junction begins with railway detective Jim Stringer arriving in the metal foundries of Ironopolis, where blast furnaces also belch fire and giant ladles pour molten iron, and Martin writes vividly of Stringer’s ultimately fruitless pursuit of his suspect through an industrial hell that made me think of Miyaki and Katsuhiro Otomo’s steampunk fantasy Steamboy.That scene immediately gave me a fantastic feel for the sense of the promise and dangers of industrialization that made Britain a superpower, but I think it’s effect on me was helped by Martin’s choice of referring to Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire as Ironopolis, which increased the Miyazaki/steampunk feeling. Ironopolis was Middlesbrough’s nickname and still I think the name of the football club and it has a very science fiction ring.Another reason the book had such an effect on me is the time period, 1909. I have little knowledge of the Edwardian period, being more familiar with Victorian England or the later ’20s and ’30s of P.G. Wodehouse. And so it was interesting to read a book where I continually felt out of my depth, especially with all the talk of strange locomotives like the Gateshead Infant and technical references like 4-4-0 (referring to the number and type of wheels on an engine). And any book set in this period has a built in dread, especially now that I know his other books are moving us ever closer to World War I.But soon the book settles into a more practical murder mystery when the body of a railway photographer is found near a marshalling yard after Stringer’s train is blocked by a snowdrift. It’s questionable whether the case is really within his remit, but Stringer has conflicting interests. He’s eager for a promotion that will help see his family better able to care for his sickly son and he’s better served by following the rules and the chain of command and obeying his immediate superior, who sent him to arrest the subject he sought at the foundry. But solving a murder would also look impressive, so he follows the clues by developing the film from a camera that was missing from the photographer’s body that Stringer later finds.From his investigations, he learns that the photographer was interested in a special railway car specially engaged by some businessmen and many of the people on that train have ended up dead or missing. Stringer’s investigations are also aided by a railway journalist who knew the dead photographer and was on the same train blocked by the snowdrift.The book has an early climax with a wild pursuit to Scotland where the pursuer Stringer turns out to be the object of the game. You know it’s a early climax because you can feel how many pages are left in the book so don’t be surprised when there’s more to come.One of the interesting aspects about this detective is that he doesn’t really want to be a detective, having lost his job as a railway something (I’m sorry, I can’t remember what his title was, maybe fireman). It’s pretty obvious that he’d go back to being a railway fireman or engineer if he could. That doesn’t prevent Stringer from doing his job, however. He’s a dogged detective, not a great one, which becomes pretty obvious when the tables are turned, although ultimately his assessment of a crucial person’s character proves correct.It’s also nice to read about a more or less happily married detective. I found his wife to be a little annoying but I have heard her described as his brilliant wife in reviews of Martin’s earlier Stringer novels. But it’s clear his love for his wife and son.