Edward Marston's The Silver Locomotive Mystery
is part of his Railway Detective series, set in Britain in the 1850s. It's the sixth in the series, but I picked it up because of the lovely Early Victorian cover, and then discovered that Marston writes two other series set in interesting times (in this reader's opinion): The Restoration Series, set after the Great Fire of London, and the Captain Rawson series, which begins in the British Army in 1704.
Worth a try, I figured. I love steam railroads and I read mysteries for relaxation.
I wanted to like this better than I did. There are charming elements to it, and some fun moments. Alas, it didn't really work for me. Half the time I enjoyed it, but half the time I found the experience akin to reading student novels.
• The text reads more like a teleplay for PBS Mystery, before the excessive dialog is cut out for the shooting script. I see that Marston writes for television, so that might explain the feel.
• The characters speak as though they are actors in a play, on stage, being rather formal; rather than like real people. This makes sense for the actors who make up part of the novel's cast. Otherwise it felt phony, and eroded this reader's suspension of disbelief.
• A good half of the dialogue is superfluous. Whole exchanges are repetitive, circular, or exist only to show what we've already been told. (The "Lady Gizzard warned him. "Be warned."" effect.) There were a number of maid-and-butler discussions. Almost every dialogue sequence went a page or so too long, by my estimation.
• I completely lost sympathy when the protagonist, Railway Detective Robert Colbeck, insists (stupidly, to my mind) that the victims of a robbery must, repeatedly, ransom the object stolen at prices beyond cost. The excuse was that this was also a murder investigation, but the rationale was inane. And, surprise, it didn't work.
• There seemed to be a couple of plot problems, including Colbeck leaping to a solution that was only one interpretation of the evidence. I wasn't convinced.
On the other hand, it's only a 3-grimace novel, well below the average set by, for instance, Tony Hillerman.
Clearly Edward Marston has a sizeable readership, sells lots of books, and certainly doesn't need my advice. A nice, cozy historical novel this certainly is, so if my aesthetic quibbles don't bother you, this might be a series worth looking into.