Joel Heygate, the stationmaster at Exeter Station, is liked and respected by his passengers, staff and employers. It seems impossible that such a fine man should be murdered, but this is the case and his charred body is discovered on the enormous bonfire that is annually built in Exeter Cathedral close as the people of Exeter celebrate Guy Fawkes night.
The managing director of the railway contacts Scotland Yard and requests that Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck is sent to Exeter to help the local police solve the crime. Colbeck is known to the newspapers, and through them the public, as the Railway Detective, because of his fascination with the railway and his numerous successes in solving railway based crimes.
Colbeck and his sergeant, Victor Leeming, soon discover many people with motives to wish Joel Heygate harm. These include his ambitious second-in-command at the station, who knows he will never gain promotion while Heygate remains in his post. Also there is Heygate's wastrel brother and sister-in-law, who have wasted all their business opportunities and expect Heygate to continually supply financial support. Initially, however, the chief suspect is a thug that Heygate had ejected from Exeter Station; a vicious criminal who swore he'd be revenged.
Even those who loved and admired Joel Heygate cannot be cleared of complicity in his death. The manageress of Exeter Station Tea Rooms has become so obsessed by her erroneous belief that Heygate returns her affections that his terrible death causes her to suffer a mental breakdown. Her incarceration leads Colbeck and Leeming to discover the horrors of the local lunatic asylum.
After initial resentment the local police are very helpful but the arrogant Bishop of Exeter is not. Because the body was discovered in the Cathedral close, the Bishop insists the crime was an attempt to embarrass and intimidate him. Placating the egotistical Bishop wastes police time and resources, especially when it leads to the arrival in Exeter of Colbeck's boss, Superintendent Tallis.
Colbeck is determined to gain justice for Joel Heygate but he also has a pressing reason to wish to return to London as soon as possible. The date of his wedding is imminent. Colbeck is very much in love with Madeleine; torn between love and duty, he fears he will have to postpone their wedding.
The Stationmaster's Farewell is the latest book in the Railway Detective series. Like all of the books in this series it is well-crafted, with convincing period detail. There is a lot of information about the Victorian railways, not merely factual but also the social attitudes and prejudices surrounding the railways and their effect on society. The plot is interesting with a large number of twists and turns. The relationship between the three Scotland Yard detectives, Colbeck, Leeming and Tallis, is well drawn and continually developing, especially the relationship between Colbeck and the irascible, somewhat jealous, but basically honourable Superintendent Tallis.
The Stationmaster's Farewell is a very good read, as are the earlier books in the series.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Edward Marston was born and brought up in Wales. He read Modern History at Oxford then lectured in the subject for three years before becoming a full-time freelance writer. His first historical mystery, The Queen's Head, was published in 1988. Marston has worked as an actor and director, and once ran his own professional fringe theatre company. He has also taught drama in a prison and worked as a story editor for a film company at Pinewood. He has written over forty original plays for radio, television and the theatre, and hundreds of episodes of drama series. But he now concentrates on developing the various series of crime novels that have come from his pen. Under the pseudonym of Conrad Allen he has written eight nautical mysteries, set during the Edwardian era. The first, Murder on the Lusitania, came out in 1999. As Keith Miles, he is the author of six crime novels whose protagonist is a professional golfer. All the titles have a contemporary setting, each book taking Saxon to a different country. The latest, Honolulu Play-off, was published in 2004. Keith Miles is also the author of Murder in Perspective and Saint's Rest, two architectural mysteries, set in America in the 193Os and featuring Merlin Richards.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a core contributor to Women's Weekly. She also writes contemporary and historical crime and is currently looking for an agent or publisher. An Adult Education teacher, Carol has always maintained that writing and reading fiction is good for people and has spent much of her career facilitating Creative Writing for disabled people.
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