December Raves: Book Review: The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington

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Digital: 177 pages

Published by PAC books

Blurb:

“There’s a ghost train that runs along here at night. They say it carries the souls of those bound for hell.”

Jane Adams is only twenty-three, but she’s already a widow. A daughter of the railway, after her husband’s death she takes a job as a level crossing gatekeeper in the little town of Tungold, out at the end of the line. But all is not right in Tungold. The townspeople are frosty and unwelcoming, and Jane’s only ally is the new young police constable, Alec Ward, an outsider just like her.

When a railway official is murdered, Jane and Alec become determined to get to the bottom of the town’s secrets. Who killed Brian Mathieson? And what is behind the mysterious ghost train? But Jane is also hiding a secret of her own — one that will put her life and everything she cares about on the line.

 

Set in the late 1800’s in the fictional town of Tungold, a small country town in rural Australia, The Iron Line is a murder mystery with an air of Australian Gothic.

Newly widowed Jane Adams arrives from Goulburn as the new level-crossing gatekeeper and is warned of a mysterious ghost train that rattles along the line in the dead of night. Unwilling to believe in ghosts, Jane soon finds she has more pressing concerns in the mundanity of everyday life and in finding her place in a small town with more than its fair share of politics and prejudice. That is, of course, until the murder…

Jane can’t resist either the mystery of the train or the mystery of the murder, and soon teams up with the handsome Constable Ward, although her blossoming relationship is rightly complicated by her memories of her late husband.

Jane is an outspoken and enjoyable heroine. A feminist and self-professed bully-hater, she’s a likeable and relatable if somewhat mysterious character. Jane’s past is deftly handled by the author, gently feeding us the smallest titbits of her history and how she came to Tungold.

Although Tungold is fictional, Merrington’s historical research is such to breathe life and authenticity into the small town and its inhabitants. In fact, The Iron Line offers plenty of historical commentary as Jane faces many of the hardships of a single woman in rural Australia in the late 19th century – monetary worries, social ostracism, sexism, snakes and spiders, the endless chores that existed before vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and motor cars, as well as a pervasive sense of danger that comes from living isolated and alone.

Merrington makes the most of Jane’s isolation, and Jane’s home on the outskirts of town beside the railway gives ample opportunity for her to be awakened by the spectral, creepy locomotive: ‘The locomotive was black, I thought, but glowed with a strange, eerie luminescence, independent of the moonlight…Mr Bailey had said there was no driver, but as I peered towards the cabin I caught sight of someone. Then he turned towards me and I thrust my hands into my mouth to stifle a scream…’

The Iron Line is great length too, and I’m so glad too for the digital age which has once again made the 60,000-word murder-mystery a viable exercise (after all, Agatha Christie herself is said to have supported 50,000 words as the perfect length for a murder-mystery). The Iron Line feels fresh and fast-paced without any unnecessary padding or spurious sub-plots to slow down the main story.

It has a fantastic twist at the end too. Gripping from start to finish with plenty to love from the painstaking historical research, to the nod to Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight, to the enjoyable and well-handled mystery plot, this novel should definitely be joining you for holiday reading.

Highly recommended.

You can get it here on Amazon 

or click here for links to your other favourite retailers (itunes, nook, etc)

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Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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Book One of the Long Earth

336 pages

Published 2012 by HarperCollins

“Normally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the silence”

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This book was okay. Okay, in the sense of just okay. Okay, in the sense of, well, meh. It had its good points, but I often find with sci-fi, that if I have issues with the premise, then I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book, and I had issues with the premise, and the ponderous plot.

Imagine what would happen if you could step onto another world, another earth, devoid of people, untouched by pollution, with only a simple mechanism to help you. Now imagine what would happen if you could step to another earth, and another, and another. This is the premise of The Long Earth, that with nothing but a box and a potato you can step into an endless string of alternate realities. Or, if you know how, you can step with nothing at all.

My first big issue with the premise was the idea that populated cities would empty as people stepped away from civilization in their search for utopia. Pratchett and Baxter turned the Long Earth into a quasi-pioneering venture, where groups of people would dare the wilderness, and build something from nothing. Now, I’ve seen those shows where people have to live like pioneers and build their homes with olden days equipment and compost their own toilets and grow their own food. Frankly, it always looks to me like that kind of life pretty much sucks. Any hypothesis that most people would willingly give up the joys of modern life in exchange for the wilderness frankly underestimates the value of plumbing, tampons, microwaves, disposable nappies, takeaway food, a working health/government/law-and-order system, to name but a few of the simple luxuries modern life affords.

Anyhoo, that’s rant number one over. Now lets get to the story. Joshua Valiente, a natural stepper, is recruited by near-omniscient AI Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Together they plan to travel to the ends of the Long Earth, a journey that will take them through millions of worlds. Lobsang is a quirky character at first, but grew tiresome for me, and as they float through the worlds in a giant airship, there was a distinct feeling that the story was going nowhere as multiple stories of random characters follow in an episodic blur. Even the impending doom which the novel tries to build seemed too vague and, by the end, unrealised.

All in all this novel is an okay way to spend a few hours, but the humour lacks Terry Pratchett’s usual deft touch, and the plot was not compelling enough to make me want to pick up the second book in the series.

6 different dragons, that all kinda look the same….

6 dragons