Bright and ambitious, young Jim Stringer moves from the English countryside to London deter- mined to become a railway man. It is 1903, the dawn of the Edwardian age, when steam runs the nation and the railways drive progress. Jim can’t believe his luck to have gotten his foot in the door at South East Railway, run out of Waterloo Station. He finds, however, that his duties involve a graveyard shift, literally—a railway line that takes coffins from London morgues to the gigantic new cemeteries being dug in the city’s outskirts. He also learns that his predecessor had disappeared and that his coworkers seem to have formed an instant loathing for him. Forced to live by his wits and to arrive at his own deductions—assisted by his landlady, for whom he falls— he tries to figure out what is going on before he is issued a one-way ticket on the Necropolis Railway.
First published in the U.K. in 2002, Martin's U.S. debut offers smooth prose, but suffers from its callow, 19-year-old protagonist, Jim Stringer. In 1903, Stringer leaves York for London to make something of himself on the railway, a consuming passion of his for years. Despite his letter of reference from a director of the London and South Western Railway, Stringer receives a hostile reception at Necropolis Railway and is soon delegated to dirty scut work connected with the transport of coffins to nearby cemeteries. When he learns his predecessor mysteriously disappeared, Stringer pursues an amateur investigation that turns dangerous after several people turn up dead. Basil Copper made better use of the creepy, atmospheric Necropolis Railway setting in his 1980 novel, Necropolis, and the almost impossibly na ve Stringer stumbles on the truth rather than displaying genuine cleverness.