Fiction books about railways and locomotives
The Necropolis Railway (A Jim Stringer Mystery)
By Andrew Martin
Gender: Detective/detective novel
First post: 2002
It is November 14, 1903 and young Jim Springer is traveling to London to start work on the London & South Western Railway. He put to work cleanup engines #29 and 31, which he soon learns are the two engines used to transport the coffins to the nearby cemetery/mausoleum.
His predecessor had mysteriously died, and shortly after Jim goes to work, another colleague is killed on the job. After the suspicious death of a third railway worker, Jim decides to get to the bottom of the murders.
This book assumes a certain level of railway knowledge and terminology. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably the reader Andrew Martin had in mind. I had no problem understanding the book and I actually admire the detail Martin put into creating the scenes. I could imagine his descriptions and enjoyed his work in small details, like Jim’s clumsy first attempts to shovel coal into the firebox. (It wasn’t as easy as he expected!)
If you love early 1900s railroads and a down-to-earth mystery, this book is for you. I liked that.
Trigger Warnings: There are references to prostitutes and there is a brief sexual encounter in the book. There are also some swear words.
Sherlock Holmes and the Railroad Maniac
By Barrie Roberts
Gender: Mystery / historical mystery
First post: 1994
This book is one of 10 pastiches of Holmes written by Roberts, and my first Sherlock Holmes novel. Holmes and Watson are called out of retirement to investigate two fatal train derailments. Soon after, Holmes and Watson embark on a nocturnal recreation trip to explore the landscape, and they soon find the engineer and fireman unconscious and the train spiraling out of control! They discover that “resinous opiates” had been put in the cabin and as the engine heated up, the fumes overwhelmed the crew members (but not Holmes and Watson, as they were both facing outward while scanning the countryside).
The events of this book take place over a period of six years. The storyline is also tied to the events leading up to World War I. Although I enjoyed the book as a whole, the focus of the railroad action was mostly at the beginning and end of the book (apart from the journeys). I would also have liked a chapter from the point of view of the railway maniac – how did he gain access to the locomotive cab to spray it with opiates, how did he choose which locomotive or which train derail – to learn more about his character.
Overall, I think I enjoyed this book. The ending is particularly gruesome and gory, so watch out if you’re gross.
Warning Triggers: The railroad maniac dies violently at the end of the book.
By Clive Cussler/Justin Scott
First post: 2009
Clive Cussler has published dozens of novels, including this 13-book series featuring Detective Isaac Bell. The towtruck is the second book in the series, but you don’t have to read the others to understand the book (I didn’t).
It’s 1907, and someone is trying to ruin the South Pacific Railway. He was nicknamed “The Wrecker” by Isaac Bell. This criminal derails locomotives, starts fires and attempts to blast the track, causing deaths and extensive damage along the way. The storyline was eerily similar to the Sherlock Holmes book I described above, but in a much longer version.
There’s a lot to love for railroad fans – nearly all of the story takes place on trains, near the railroad, or on railroad property. The first half of the book was thrilling, as The Wrecker stayed right in front of Bell. However, I wish the story was shorter by around 150 pages, as the storyline gets long and convoluted.
If you have free time and enjoy historical fiction, check out this book. But if you have to choose, I would recommend the Holmes Railway Maniac book instead.
Trigger Warnings: Racial slurs are used in parts of the book.
Interested in reading more railroad-themed books? Find more reviews here.