Book name: Fear on the Phantom Special
Author: Edward Marston
Publisher: Allison and Busby
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Crime fiction
Publication Date: 2019
Star Rating: 5/5
Crime fiction and Halloween are natural bedfellows, so when I came across Fear on the Phantom Special in my local secondhand bookshop I was keen to give it a go.
When I saw that it was set in the Lake District, another favourite haunt of murder mysteries, I was hooked.
Fear on the Phantom Special is one of many crime novels in the Victorian ‘Railway Detective’ Series. However, each story is self-contained.
Wastrel Alexander Piper is keen to enjoy one last hair-raising expedition before settling down to marry Melissa Haslam.
He arranges an excursion on Halloween aboard a local train to the site of a mysterious disappearance.
En route to Hither Wood, close to his home in the Lake District, the train is forced to a stop when the lights go out. A large fire has been lit ahead on the tracks.
Alex is brave, or foolhardy, enough to alight and run towards the flames. He then disappears entirely.
By the time his best friend, Geoffrey Hedley, has rallied the other men to search for him, the fire is under control but Alex is nowhere to be seen.
Exhaustive searches yield nothing. Eventually, Alexander’s uncle Lord Culverhouse pulls some strings down in London to have Inspector Robert Colbeck assigned to the case.
Robert travels north to Kendal by train with Sergeant Victor Leeming. The latter detests rail travel, but Robert loves every moment of their journey.
Arriving in Kendal, Robert and Victor are met by Geoffrey, who helpfully provides them with a list of suspects. They begin to wonder why local policeman Sergeant Bernard Ainsley hasn’t been keener to find Alex.
Eventually, the searches are called off and despite the continuing absence of Alex’s body the investigation assumes the feel of a murder inquiry.
The more that Robert and Victor discover about Alex’s private life the longer that list of suspects grows.
Robert is drawn to Hither Wood, the destination of the ill-fated Halloween excursion. The local blacksmith disappeared there years earlier and his body has never been found even though he was the best friend of the local policeman.
Robert begins to wonder whether the two disappearances are connected.
I enjoyed Fear on the Phantom Special very much. The atmospheric feeling was enhanced by the bookending of the action from Halloween to Bonfire Night. Robert and Victor were likeable and diligent. A side-plot was offered involving Robert’s wife down in London that kept her in view after earlier books in the series.
There were times when I had to remind myself that this was set in the 1860s, as the period detail was only lightly sketched. That didn’t matter too much as it left plenty of space for characterisation, Halloween ambience and plot.
Thank you for reading my review.
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