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The Man Who Played Trains: review

I received this free (and quite sizeable) review copy courtesy of Matthew, MD of Urbane Publications. He suggested it might suit my interests and he was absolutely right!


Mining engineer John Spargo is distraught when his mother is attacked in her home and later dies from her injuries. Her home has been ransacked. Determined to track down her killer and discover the truth behind her death, John finds a connection between his late father's wartime mine and the wreck of a U-Boat. The connection deepens when he discovers the diaries of the U-Boat captain and a wartime mission to spirit Göring to safety along with a fortune in stolen art. When John's daughter Jez is kidnapped, he is contacted by a mysterious consortium her life hangs in the balance unless he can find the stolen art. What is the link with his father's abandoned mine? Who was the U-Boat captain? Did he survive and hide Göring's treasures? John races against time to discover the truth...and in doing so may unearth secrets that were better left buried...


Despite being a veteran of many thrillers, I still made the mistake of wondering where the author was going with the opening description of Spargo's troubling dreams and whether or not I was going to care enough to get to the end. I'm certainly glad that I did because I really did not see the story returning to these visions in the very moving way that it did. Yes, it takes a few pages to get going and really to grab your attention but it is well worth the engagement. The dual narrative - not always easy to read and a real pig to write effectively - was woven into the modern narrative intricately and very intelligently. I note that it took the author a fair while to settle upon rendering the scenes set at the close of WW2 into the vivid present but I think he made the correct decision. It varies the tone and pace very nicely and creates tension throughout as the reader steps blindly - and simultaneousy - into the same dicey situations as does the U boat commander Theo Volker. The two narratives converge at express pace as the story moves towards its gripping climax and I did have problems putting the book down until well into the night. Also, as a former cop myself I was glad that the police procedural elements were plausible and well observed but not at all distracting or overplayed (as they can sometimes be in this genre). Because this book combines elements of a detective-led whodunnit, historical fiction and WW2 material, not to mention a healthy dose of conspiracy theory, it casts a broad appeal.

My only gripe is with the editing of the text: there are quite a few omissions of single words and one or two misspellings (e.g. 'feint' for 'faint'). Fortunately, these don't notably impede the story: I only had to re-read two sentences to ensure I had the sense right. That said, the proofreader might have done a slightly better job because the book is otherwise nicely presented. This is the only factor preventing a full 5...

4.8 * for a hugely satisfying page-turner!

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