Series: The Case Files of Jack Wenlock #1
Genres: Historical Mystery
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 15 March 2015
Malcolm Pryce is one of my favourite mystery authors given his ability to effortlessly weave together complex plot threads within an absurdist framework. This new book – please let it be the start of a new series! – steps away from his Aberystwyth Noir roots and plonks us in post war England just before the nationalisation of the railway network.
Jack Wenlock is the last ‘Gosling’, legendary railway detectives who dedicate their lives to serving the British public. Times are changing however and Jack’s job is set to be phased out. When a tenacious woman called Jenny tracks him down and asks him to investigate a curious incident involving her aunt, Jack is reluctantly drawn into a very complex case.
The good bits
How Jack ended up an orphan and a Gosling is odd by any definition but it was his personality that really drew me in. Jack is very earnest, practical and yet entirely naive when it comes to anything other than trains. His burgeoning relationship with Jenny was sweet but thankfully didn’t overshadow the mystery.
The not so good bits
I could see some readers getting confused by the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events. All I can say is to stick with it as the pay-off is definitely worth it when Pryce ties everything together at the end.
Reminds me of…
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – This novel also has a circular plot that focuses on the paradox of the 23 nuns who disappeared from 7.25 Swindon to Bristol Temple Meads in 1915. When you throw in a random gorilla who has seen better days and shifty bureaucrats who may not have our protagonist’s best interests at heart, you have a lovely homage to the daddy of all absurdist novels.
Edward Marsden’s railway detective series – ’nuff said.
An entertaining and quirky book that needs to be read slowly so as to savour the wit within.