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My Thoughts About …. ‘The Lost Luggage Porter’ by Andrew Martin

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SYNOPSIS

Edwardian detective Jim Stringer goes undercover into the Yorkshire underworld of drifters, pickpockets and train-robbers.

It is Jim Stringer’s first day as an official railway detective, but he’s not a happy man.

York, Winter, 1906 – two brothers have been shot to death. Meanwhile, Jim Stringer meets the Lost Luggage Porter, humblest among the employees of the North Eastern Railway company. He tells Jim a tale which leads him to the roughest part of town, a place where the police constables always walk in twos. Jim is off on the trail of pickpockets, ‘station loungers’ and other small fry of the York underworld. But then in a tiny, one-room pub with a badly smoking fire he enters the orbit of a dangerous, disturbed villain who is playing for much higher stakes . . . and two murders are barely the start of his plans …

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GET TO KNOW THE AUTHOR

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Andrew Martin grew up in Yorkshire and has built up his series of ‘Jim Stringer, Railway Detective’ books, using Northern characters he can relate to and empathise with, although these days, London is the place he chooses to call home and is where he lives with his wife and family.

All this, a far cry from the career Andrew qualified for, as a barrister, although his change of direction would only appear to emphasize his love of writing.

He has written for several prestigious publications and newspapers, both in staff jobs and in his capacity as a freelance journalist. He has also turned his hand to book editing and writing for radio.

His authorship has taken him from the realms of the short story, through to books with a humorous touch aimed at the ‘weaker’ and undomesticated half of most partnerships .. (that’ll be men to you and I!!) and on, to the novel. There were two stand-alone novels before Jim Stringer came on the scene, however this dour character has dominated Andrew’s writing of late, earning the author several accolades and shortlistings for some serious awards in the field of crime writing.

Publishers, Faber and Faber, have a great question and answer article with Andrew Martin, in their ‘crime writers’ section, so if you have  a couple of minutes to spare why not take a look, I found it very informative and entertaining.

 

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK

Coming as I do, from what used to be one of the oldest and largest railway communities, Swindon, this book was of great interest to me, when I saw it for sale in a local charity shop. That was long before I knew that the author himself came from a family of railway workers, based in the offices of the York works, where this book is set.

The book was originally recommended to me by Nikki-Ann, after her great review of it appeared over at ‘Notes Of Life’, so I knew that I wasn’t going to be too disappointed with it, although you should maybe check out both reviews, as we do have some differing views about the overall appeal of the book.

This, once again given my appalling track record for reading a series in any kind of logical order, is not the first book in the series, featuring the character ‘Jim Stringer’. However, ‘The Lost Luggage Porter’ starts us off on a new chapter in Jim’s life, so works great as a stand-alone story. Incidental snippets of information which appear throughout the book, contrive to paint a more than adequate picture of the young Jim’s life so fully, that I really don’t feel the need to go back and read the earlier episodes in the series.

The scenes which are set in and around the railway station and yard are detailed and visual in their description, creating just the right atmosphere. From the vast expanse of the dimly, gas-lit station terminus, with all its noise and smoke-filled atmosphere, to the cobbled back alleys surrounding the station, where thieves and vagabonds live and prey on the unsuspecting interloper, I could just imagine myself there. However, I did think that once we were taken out of this ‘safe’ environment, the descriptive power of Andrew Martin’s writing, did rather lack imagination and finesse, especially in some of the later scenes, which take place in Paris.

Jim Stringer himself, lives up to his Northern reputation, a dour, morose individual, who appears to have the weight of the world upon his shoulders. True, he has been disappointed in not attaining the career in life he had chosen for himself, however unjustly and seemingly through no real fault of his own. However, it now looks as though he has been beaten into submission and forced into a career change which he doesn’t relish and is therefore determined to make the worst of, with his bitterness and resentment overflowing unchecked into his demeanour  and actions. He comes across as a very two dimensional, monochrome character, who, if the book had come complete with audio, I would imagine to have a very emotionless and monotonous voice.

His life is therefore dictated by a whole series of strong people, who he appears to have no desire or ability to challenge.  There are numerous, extraneous characters who play quite pivotal roles in the story and whilst the general broad montage of faces are explained and brought to life in all the appropriate places, it may be that some of them could have benefitted from slightly stronger dialogue and deeper characterisations.

Jim and Lydia have a fairly unique relationship for the times, as Lydia is allowed much more freedom than many Edwardian women would ever have enjoyed. Jim, whilst not fully supporting her suffragist views and friends, allows her the freedom to pursue them and also to work, to help support them as a family. In reality, it may be that he is unable to exert much authority over Lydia, who is a very strong, intelligent character, determined to get her own way, including deciding on Jim’s career path for him, not even realising that Jim has no real appetite for the direction she is sending him in.

Jim’s father is a self-made businessman, full of his own imagined importance, pompous and over-bearing. Definitely not at one with his errant daughter-in-law, he does however side with her whenever Jim’s future comes into question.

Chief Inspector Weatherill, is a complete enigma. He has never met, let alone had the opportunity to assess this ‘rookie’ officer, before placing him in plain clothes and under cover, to help stem the rising crimewave in and around York railway station. He then seems completely powerless to help, when the inevitable happens and Jim is left stranded and way out of his depth. He does appear to be ‘in the right place, at the right time’ on a few occasions, but is unable to offer advice or help to Jim, who acts like a ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’.

Jim’s loyalty to the job is questioned and found wanting one last time, when ‘The Lost Luggage Porter’, Lund, makes his dramatic and final confession, although he does eventually reveal the sorry truth to Weatherill, but by then it is too late for the pathetic Lund.

The plot does move at quite a pace and is suspenseful, intense and deadly in many places. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns and many occasions when it looks as though Jim is about to make his move and offer the gang up for arrest, although he just never finds the right time to follow through on a plan. The gang are a real bunch of disparate characters and will stop at nothing to win their ultimate prize. Jim however, is only galvanised into action when Lydia’s life becomes threatened and then his first thoughts are survivalist, rather than apprehending the gang members, whose downfall is eventually brought about by their own inate greed and belief that they were untouchable.

I am not sure however, that reading just this one book is enough for me to come to any conclusion about the strength and sincerity of Jim as a believable character, so I may need to read one of the later books in the series, just to see how Jim’s character has been developed and stretched to fit this new role he has undertaken in life.

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This book was actually one from my own TBR mountain, although removing it hasn’t made any insignificant dent in the look of my shelves. My dad has also read this one, although he didn’t really care for it a great deal, as although the story is set in the Edwardian early 1900’s, it still reminded him too much of the austerity and gloominess of his time spent working in the engine sheds of the 1950’s-1980’s at the Swindon Railway Works.

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Whilst I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as each one is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader, some review sites do demand a rating value and will not let you post a review without, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.

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Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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23 comments
  • I’ve got the whole series in my TBR pile and really should get through them as it would be interesting to see how Stringer has changed throughout the books.

    Have you read any of Edward Marston’s Inspector Robert Colbeck series? I believe it’s similar to the Jim Stringer series in that Colbeck is a railway detective. I’d like to try that series once I’ve read all of the Stringer one.

    • Hi Nikki,

      You had best hurry up with that reading then, because book 8 is due out later this year.

      I definitely want to read one of the later books in the series, to see if the character of Stringer has developed into someone a little more likeable and competent at his job.

      There is a whole website devoted to the Inspector Colbeck series, which looks to be very similar to the Stringer series, although it is set in the late 1800’s, rather than the early 1900’s and Colbeck seems to travel around the country solving his railway crimes, with one even being set in France.

      I shall have to keep an eye open for these books as well, although with book 8 coming out in paperback in April and book 9 due for release in hardback in the same month, keeping up with them all is nearly impossible!!!

      http://www.edwardmarston.com/colbeck.html

      Thanks for the recommendation, it is just one more name for my list….

      What a lovely day it has been … We went to our second nearest city, Salisbury (20 miles away). There are a couple of Treasure Trails around the city, that we wanted to check out. One is around the cathedral and grounds and the other explores the many historic inns of the city. All in all we covered about 3.5 miles, so have arrived home satisfied, but very tired.

      http://www.treasuretrails.co.uk/

      Hope that you also had a good day and thanks for taking time out to stop by.

      • I’ll have to check our those Treasure Trails when I’ve got some spare time. They sound interesting.

        I’m having a lazy day today… I need to write up a review and get some more reading done. Yesterday, I went to Blue Planet Aquarium up and Cheshire Oaks (up near Chester) and then called back in Llangollen and Oswestry on the way home. It was a lovely day! Tomorrow I’m planning a trip to the Black Country Museum and then it’s back to work on Thursday.

        • Hi Nikki,

          It sounds as though you are having a good few days holiday. It’s a shame that it isn’t quite as warm as it was over the weekend, but at least it is dry and quite pleasant.

          We have only been to Chester once and that was just into the City centre and a short stroll along the riverbank. Friends took us there whilst we were visiting them in Llandudno and we had a lovely day.

          We have never done the Black Country Museum, but have visited the Ironbridge Museum, albeit a long time ago. The Ironbridge must be quite close to you, isn’t it? Have you ever visited?, if so it would be quite interesting to hear your comparison between the two.

          When we lived in The Cotswolds, it wasn’t quite such a long drive for us to visit these places, but living down here in Somerset, it would almost need to be an ‘overnighter’ to make it worth while.

          The Treasure Trails are a pretty cool way to explore places in a whole new way and get to see things that you may never have noticed before. There are nearly 800 all over the country, so there is sure to be one close by you.

          Have a great day tomorrow.

          • Hi Yvonne,

            While it’s been clouded over here for the past few days the weather was lovely at warm up Chester way and Llangollen. Actually, I took a friend over to the coast on Saturday, to Aberaeron and Aberystwyth, and it was thick fog/mist over the mountains. We couldn’t see far at all, but as we dropped down to the coast it was beautiful. I even had to take my coat off!

            Yes, Ironbridge is about an hour from here. I’ve been as a kid and we went to Blists Hill Victorian Town last year (Ironbridge Gorge Museum is all split into a number of museums). Again, despite it being early in the year (once again I was using up the last of my days off work), it was beautiful weather. I haven’t been to the Black Country Museum before, but from what I know I think it’s bigger than Blists Hill. At least, the website says you need at least half a day for the Black Country Museum, if not a whole day, but it only took us a couple of hours to get around Blists Hill (although I do love the place!).

            • Hi Nikki,

              We haven’t managed to get to the coast yet this year, but we are situated equidistant to several different places, although we always tend to head South towards Bournemouth or Portsmouth.

              Our trails cover Somerset however, where all the coastal resorts are on the North coast, so Weston-Super-Mare, Watchett and Minehead, will probably be our top spots this year.

              Have a lovely ‘Day At The Museum’.

  • I have never heard of this series before and it does sound interesting. It seems like you were able to connect with the story due to the railroad aspect. Wonderful review. I like that you say you need to read another book in the series in order to get a better take on Jim’s character.

    • Hi Naida,

      It is always good to be able to connect with a story, when it relates to somewhere, or something, which you know quite well, which is why I am surprised that my dad didn’t enjoy it more than he did.

      Perhaps the memories for him are not particularly pleasant ones, of working in the dark oppressive workshops and sheds, whereas I only remember the superficial look of the buildings, which are now no longer standing, but which once represented such a large piece of the landscape of Swindon.

      I have been checking out the rest of the series and it seems that the author has done a great job of moving each story along in time a little, and the 8th and latest book, whch is due out in a couple of months, is set in Baghdad during the First World War, where Jim Stringer, who is now in the army, is operating.

      I am not generally partial to war-time books, but I think that it will be the best test of me finding out just how much the character of Jim Stringer has been developed, so I have already got this on my reading list.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your great comments, I always appreciate them.

  • This sounds like the kind of series I would LOVE! Thanks for telling us about it 🙂 I really liked your review because your insights about the author and his background really added to it.

    • Hi Libby,

      Thanks for stopping by, it is always good to ‘meet’ new people and I always appreciate the comments I receive.

      I always try to find out as much as I can about the author of any book I read, as I think that it all adds to the overall experience for me and hopefully for the readers of Fiction Books. Some authors also have blogs where they welcome discussion, which is cool and basically I guess I might just be a little on the nosey side and like to know all there is to know about the person behind the story!

      I am an eclectic reader and will try just about any genre of book, but one of my favourite genres is the crime/mystery/thriller, so I had great expectations for this series. I am not sure that I will ever get around to reading all 8 books in the series, however I shall read at least one more, just to see how the character of Jim Stringer progresses in his career, as I wasn’t quite as struck on ‘The Lost Luggage Porter’ as I thought I might be.

      I hope that you have a good reading experience, should you decide to try this book, or any other from the series.

      Enjoy your week.

    • Hi Linda,

      Salisbury was bathed in sunshine, it was packed full of visitors and the afternoon tea was very civilized.

      The trails took us around parts of the City that I have never seen in all the 20 odd years we have lived in the area and we were just awestruck at the number of historic inns which still exist within a relatively small area.

      The park and green in and around the Cathedral is always a lovely walk and did make us appreciate anew, just what we have on our own doorstep.

      Bath, is our closest City, being only 12 miles away, so that is where we naturally head for, although as neither of us are avid shoppers, unless we can justify a visit to a bookshop, we don’t go in that often.

      Thanks for visiting and for the lovely comment about my review, I really appreciate it.

  • I hadn’t heard of this book (or the series) but the premise interests me – I enjoy mysteries and railroads both.

    Thank you for the detailed review.

    • Hi HKatz,

      If you enjoy railroads and mysteries, then this series would be right up your street. The detail describing the railway station, railway yard and the surrounding area sets up a great atmosphere, although I did feel that the book was more of a suspense novel, rather than a mystery, as we knew who the ‘bad guys’ were right from the beginning.

      I don’t know if you took a look at any of the other comments about this post, but Nikki also recommended another series of railway mysteries, which I checked out and which look fantastic.

      http://www.edwardmarston.com/colbeck.html

      These are historical books again, with the character of Inspector Colbeck, beckoning from the late 1800’s.

      I am beginning to get a little worried, that when people keep saying ‘thanks for the detailed review’, they might really be trying to tell me that I waffle on too much!!

      I don’t know why I always seem to get embroiled in such a lengthy post, it is a failing that I have had since childhood, when my English teacher would always comment on how lengthy my essays were and how many superfluous words I used….

      Anyhow, I will take all the comments as read and I thank you for yours and appreciate you stopping by.

      Have a fantastic week.

      • I have the same worries sometimes – I write detailed movie reviews for instance with parts about which scenes I liked best and memorable sights and sounds – and I wonder if people think I’m rambling. But I like detailed reviews because of their thoroughness and how they give me a better idea of what the book (or movie or whatever else) is all about, and a sense that you really did think about it and engage with it – plus when I’m the one writing them they help me remember the book/movie/short story better for later. So ‘detailed’ here is a compliment; your writing flows nicely and doesn’t have a ‘dragging’ feeling to it 🙂

        • Hi HKatz,

          I couldn’t have put it better myself … I like the reader, the potential reader and possibly even the author, should they stop by, to know that I have read each and every word of a book and have given careful and deliberate consideration to my thoughts about the piece, before my post is published.

          I rarely mark a book down if I didn’t particularly enjoy it, as liking a book is completely subjective and purely a matter of personal taste. I try to base my thoughts (I don’t really like the word review!) on the style of writing, the presentation of the piece and the continuity of the plot and narrative.

          My only real ‘pet hate’, are books which are badly edited and proof read, and contain spelling and grammar errors.

          Thanks for the kind words and for taking the trouble to come back to me. I have had a good look around your site and enjoyed several of your posts, so I shall be sure to visit often, to ensure that I don’t miss anything.

  • Hi Yvonne. Thanks for your visit to my blog and sorry it’s take a little bit to return the visit.

    That’s a great review and it seems like an interesting book. I don’t think it will make my TBR pile though for now as mine is dangerously Pisa-like!

    • Hi there,

      No problem with the delay in replying, it isn’t a prerequisite of me leaving you a comment.

      I kept coming across your comments on Nikki’s blog, over at ‘Notes Of Life’ and decided that I should check you out. I love your site and shall be stopping by on a regular basis, now that I have found you.

      My TBR pile passed ‘Pisa’ proportions a long time ago and I am now busy squirrelling books away on my kindle as well. I shall never ever have enough time in my life to even make a dent in the pile, but I guess the kleptomaniac in me won’t ever stop collecting.

      I will read just about every genre and like to mix my reading to suit my mood. I have moved straight on from this mystery/suspense book, to a good old fashioned romantic novella, and the next book I have chosen to follow is a psychological thriller.

      It has been good to ‘meet’ you, I always love coming across new sites and bloggers and I appreciate all the comments that I receive.

      Enjoy the rest of your week.

  • Excellent review, Yvonne. I can’t decide if this is for me or not. I think I may have read one of Edward Marston’s railway stories and found it just as you found this, a bit lacking somehow. The trouble is, I do like a good railway based story. I have a couple of books of railway ghost stories which are absolutely wonderful, and some of those authors know just how to evoke a good, menacing, sort of atmosphere, and they write well. Some of the modern writers about railways do not write as well and I find them disappointing. I might try one of these ‘just to see’… if I happen to see them at the library. Thanks for being honest in your opinion.

    • Hi Cath,

      Thanks for the kind words about the review. I am always conscious that I may tend to waffle on a bit, but I do like to try and give a worthwhile appraisal of a book, to enable someone to decide whether it is for them or not.

      No one is really interested in whether I enjoyed a book or not, as personal tastes differ so much … one man’s meat, etc. etc. … The quality of the writing and the storyline, are surely the criteria which most readers use to determine whether to buy a book and it is that which I strive to put across in my reviews.

      You obviously found Edward Marston’s railway mysteries rather tedious, but I may still try one or two of them, as a direct comparison with Andrew Martin’s writing.

      It may just be that Andrew is so spot-on in his portrayal of a true Northern character, that coming from the South, I have completely missed the nuances in the personality of ‘Jim Stringer’, which is why I shall probably give another book in the series a try. I guess that cultural differences will show through in some authors writing.

      I still thought it worthy of 4 out of 5 though, because there was basically nothing not to like about Andrew’s writing and storytelling abilities.

      Nice to chat with you again and enjoy the rest of your week

Written by Yvonne

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