"The Lost Luggage Porter"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple APR 22, 2008)
"I had lost my job on the footplate, joined a criminal band, and was about to become a father 'at any time.' It was all too bloody drastic."
James Harrison Stringer, now working as a detective for the North Eastern Company Railroad in York, England, has been fired from the job he's loved—being "on the footplate" of a locomotive. He had wrecked a locomotive and its shed because someone else failed to warm up the brakes. For Stringer, the world of trains has always been one of never-ending fascination, a world in which the power, movement, and downright excitement of being in the cab of a locomotive will never die. Reading his complete collection of Railway Magazine, however, must now substitute for his former life on the footplate, but at least, as a detective, he does have a chance to work at the terminal and watch the various lines as they operate.
When a hotel porter at the Station Hotel in York is found with his throat cut, and soon afterward the Cameron brothers, "Brilliantine" and "Crackpot," whom Stringer has encountered in a snooker parlor, are found shot to death near the York goods yard, the seemingly quiet life off the footplate suddenly ratchets up. Stringer is asked by Chief Inspector Saul Weatherill to go out into the city and trace the "badlads" and those masterminds putting them up to crime, while engaging in a "double game" by participating in their gang and then reporting to Weatherill by post every day.
Wearing an old suit bought at a second hand store and a pair of spectacles from which he has removed the lenses, Stringer believes that no one will recognize him from his former occupations at the railroad yard. (For some reason, he also believes that the pair of glasses with no lenses will fool everyone into thinking they are real.) He manages to insinuate himself into a gang run by Valentine Sampson and Miles Hopkins, and some associates who are railroad men "on the take" or men who are being blackmailed into participating in their illegal activities. Each night Stringer returns home to his loving wife Lydia, who takes his dictation and types up his reports for Weatherill. Lydia, a suffragist, pregnant with their first baby, due in a month, is not sure she looks forward to motherhood.
Stringer's discovery that the gang plans to rob a station safe containing the wages of some railroad men who have been striking, leads to additional complications when the use of acetylene torches creates some complications. Petrified to let his thief-friends know how he feels about the robbery and their violence, he is also unable to let his wife know where he is when he and the gang leave the country.
Martin creates a broad panorama of York life in 1906, concentrating on life in the railway yards as they dominate the life of the community. The 23-year-old Stringer, while not fully realized, is still a character with whom the reader will develop sympathy, and his problems in the terminal are not different from those of many other ordinary men who happen to be working for the lines in other capacities. The slang of the railroad and of the period may be disconcerting for readers at first, but as the story develops, the vocabulary and unfamiliar language become less of a problem and add significantly to the atmosphere. Filled with local color and the lure of the railways, The Lost Luggage Porter provides a fascinating glimpse of life in 1906 as the railroads become the link to the future, and the story helps to create an indelible portrait of ordinary existence and its values. An absolute must for anyone who is a fan of early railroad lore!
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Jim Stringer Series:
- The Necropolis Railway (2004; January 2007 in US)
- The Blackpool Highflyer (2005; July 2007 in US)
- The Lost Luggage Porter (2006; January 2008 in US)
- Murder at Deviation Junction (2007; January 2009 in US)
- Death On A Branch Line (2007)
- Bilton (1999)
- The Bobby Dazzlers
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- Official website for Andrew Martin
- Wikipedia page for author
- Trashotron review of The Necropolis Railway
- Guardian review of The Blackpool Highflyer
- Telegraph review of The Blackpool Highflyer
- MysteryCrimeFiction review of The Lost Luggage Porter
- Alex's Historical Fiction review of The Lost Luggage Porter
- Material Witness review of Murder at Deviation Junction
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About the Author:
Andrew Martin was born in 1962 and grew up in Yorkshire and studied at Oxford University. He is a freelance journalist and has written for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, The New Statesman and Granta, among other publications. He has also written for radio.
Martin lives in London with his wife and two sons.