All Time XIs – The CLR James Trophy

A variation on the ‘all time XI’ cricket theme inspired by CLR James’ great question “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” – contrives to touch on a huge variety of topics.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to another variation on the all-time XI theme. This one requires a little preliminary explanation to set the scene, but first before getting into the main body of the post it is time for a…

CORRECTION AND APOLOGY

Some observant readers will have observed, as did one James Carroll on twitter that in yesterday’s post about New Zealand I somehow contrived to leave out Kane Williamson. So, following my usual ‘reverse tabloid’ policy in such matters I take this opportunity to redress the wrong: Williamson replaces Rutherford in the NZ My Time team and if absolutely mandated to do so I could accommodate him in the NZ All Time by dropping Martin Crowe. My thanks to Mr Carroll for being civil about making the correction and my apology to Mr Williamson for an inexcusable oversight.

EXPLAINING THE CLR JAMES TROPHY

The CLR James Trophy gets its name from the question at the heart of that classic cricket book “Beyond a Boundary”, “what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” I pit two teams against each other of top level cricketers whose names give me non-cricketing links, with brief explanations of those links. I did consider honouring a former cricketer with a famously broad range of interests, Ed Smith and a polymath in Peter Medawar, but decided to stick with the CLR option. It is time to meet the first of our two XIs…

WG GRACE’S XI

  1. *William Gilbert Grace – right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of various types. The scorer of 54,896 first class runs and taker of 2,876 first class wickets, his parents’ eighth child and fourth son was named in honour of William Gilbert, Royal Physician to Queen Elizabeth I. He was among other things a pioneer in the field of magnetism, author of “De Magnete”, and subject of “Latitude” by Stephen Pumfrey. Another Gloucestershire physician, Dr Jessop, named his 11th child Gilbert, because it was WG’s middle name, while ‘The Champion’ had several cricketing cousins surnamed Gilbert as well.
  2. Alec Stewart – right handed opening batter. His average when picked for England in this specific role was 45 per innings. Here he gets in in order to publicize Professor Ian Stewart, author of a stack of books about mathematics, including a series of books of curios “Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities”, “Professor Stewart’s Hoard of Mathematical Treasurers” and “Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries”, and many others such as “Does God Play Dice?”, “Nature’s Numbers” and “Taming the Infinite”.
  3. Kepler Wessels – left handed batter. The only man to score over 1,000 test runs for each of two different countries. In his case the connection is by way of his given name, to ground breaking astronomer Johannes Kepler.
  4. Bill Bruce – right handed batter. A successful Aussie of the 1890s. His analogue is Colin Bruce, author of “The Strange Case of Mrs Hudson’s Cat” and “Conned Again Watson”. These two books use stories featuring Baker Street’s most famous duo to explore mysteries of science, mathematics and logic.
  5. Merv Wallace – right handed batter. The Kiwi averaged 44 in first class cricket, but his few appearances at test level were not so successful. The non-cricketing link is Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The Wallace line, which runs (among other places) between Lombok and Bali marks the geological and zoological divide between Asia and Australia.
  6. David Hookes – right handed batter. The scorer of the fastest first class hundred by any Australian batter, in just 43 minutes. He is the only one whose name needs altering to create the non-cricketing links – deleting the final s gives Hooke, as in Robert Hooke, the great 17th century scientist, author of Micrographia, and well covered in John Gribbin’s “Science: A History 1543-2001”, while deleting the e from that surname provides a connection to philosopher Bell Hooks, who I learned a little bit about while studying philosophy as one of the modules of my degree.
  7. Franklyn Stephenson – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. Our all rounder, one of only two since the reduction of first class fixtures in 1969 to have done the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in an English season, and appropriately he is doing double duty. George and Robert Stephenson were both eminent engineers, among the pioneers of railway development. The most famous Stephenson design with a railway connection was of course ‘The Rocket’. Robert Louis Stephenson, a relative of the engineers, is famous as a novelist. I have read most of his books, the first one I read being “Kidnapped”, while I studied “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” at degree level.
  8. +Jack Russell – wicket keeper, left handed lower middle order batter. His ‘alter ego’ is philosopher Bertrand Russell, author of many books, and one of the writers featured in “Portable Atheist”, edited by Christopher Hitchens.
  9. Xenophon Balaskas – leg spinner, capable right handed batter. His brief test match career does not look that impressive, but in 75 first class matches he scored 2,696 runs at 28.68 with a best of 206 and took 276 wickets at 24.11 with a best of 8-60. The original Xenophon was an Athenian who went to Sparta when his situation in his home city became untenable, signed up as a mercenary solider there and travelled to Persia as part of an army attempting to overthrow King Artaxerxes and place his brother Cyrus on the throne. After a battle in which Cyrus was killed, Xenophon and his men found themselves in deepest Persia under sentence of death, but managed to escape, and Xenophon eventually returned to Greece, writing up his adventures in a book he called Anabasis. This has been novelized by Conn Iggulden as “Falcon of Sparta”. Much later one Xenophon of Cos served as physician to the Roman Emperor Claudius, being mentioned in Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars” and also in the fictional setting of Robert Graves’ “I Claudius” and “Claudius The God”. Finally, to complete Balaskas’ ancient historical links his middle name was Constantine, linking him the first christian Roman Emperor.
  10. George Dennett – left arm orthodox spinner. Over 2,100 first class wickets and no England cap. He claims his place as second spinner by virtue of his surname, shared by philosopher Daniel C Dennett, among whose books are numbered “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” and “Breaking The Spell”, both of which adorn my shelves.
  11. Danny Morrison – right arm fast medium bowler. He was one of the Kiwis best bowlers of the 1990s and his presence creates two splendid links. Toni Morrison won the Nobel prize for Literature for “Beloved”, and is also the author of a number of other hard hitting books – anything with her name on the cover will be worth reading. Boyd Morrison writes novels that combine action, adventure and elements of science and history – I have a copy of “The Noah’s Ark Quest” and can also recommend “The Tsunami Countdown”.

This team features a good top six, a genuine all rounder in Stephenson, a keeper who can bat, and three varied specialist bowlers. With Grace also worth his place as a bowler the bowling has depth and variety, with Stephenson and Morrison to take the new ball and Dennett, Balaskas and Grace to provide alternatives.

GREVILLE STEVENS XI

  1. Harold Dennis ‘Dickie’ Bird – right handed opening batter. Best known as an umpire, but he was a successful opening bat for Barnsley, and ultimately amassed two first class hundreds, with a best of 181 not out. David Bird is a prolific writer of books about Contract Bridge. He is particularly noted for his humorous stories featuring the monks of St Titus, the nuns of St Hilda’s and latterly staff and pupils alike at Cholmeley and Channing schools, located at opposite ends of the same village.
  2. Alan Melville – right handed opening batter. The South African had a splendid test record, including four successive centuries straddling World War II. His ‘alter ego’ is Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick”.
  3. Hugh Massie – right handed attacking top order batter. He scored 55 in the original ‘Ashes’ test at The Oval in 1882, made out of 66 in under an hour – and had kicked off that tour with an innings of 206, a record first innings in England for an Aussie until 1930 when Bradman opened his English account with a score of 236. His non-cricketing counterpart is historical novelist Allan Massie, author of a series of Roman history themed books including “Augustus”, “Tiberius”, “Caesar” and “Nero’s Heirs”. “Augustus” features a wonderful spoof foreword taking on the persona of master of Michaelhouse College, Cambridge, one Aeneas Fraser-Graham, and declaring that ‘even a glimpse of a photostat is sufficient to assure one of the authenticity of these memoirs’.
  4. HJH ‘Tup’ Scott – right handed bat. Scott was one of three Aussie centurions at The Oval in 1884. He is not in fact here as an analogue for Captain Scott, although I commend to your attention the books about the ‘Captain Scott Invitational XI’ by Marcus Berkmann (“Rain Men” and tangentially “Zimmer Men”) and Harry Thompson (“Penguins Stopped Play”). No he has two ‘alter egos’ for my purposes, Walter Scott, prolific 19th century novelist and someone from whom Emily Bronte of “Wuthering Heights” fame drew inspiration, and Eugenie Scott of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who was one of the contributors to “Scientists Confront Creationism”, edited by Andrew Petto and Laurie Godfrey and highly recommended by me.
  5. Colin Munro – left handed big hitting batter. The Kiwi averages over 50 in first class cricket, though he has only played a couple of tests and those unsuccessfully. He owes his place in this XI to Hector Munro, aka ‘Saki’, a master writer of short stories.
  6. *Greville Stevens – right handed batter, leg spinner. 10,376 first class runs at 29.56, 684 wickets at 26.84. At the close of the 1920 season it was he who ensured that the curtain would descend on Plum Warner’s career with an appropriately grand finish, by clean bowling Herbert Strudwick to settle the destiny of that year’s County Championship. He is here as a tribute the detective work of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, and the writing of their amanuensis Robin Stevens, who has created the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series to chronicle their exploits.
  7. Alonzo Drake – middle order batter, left arm orthodox spinner. The first Yorkshire bowler ever to take all ten wickets in an innings – 10-35 v Somerset in 1914, the outbreak of World War 1 finished his career. Although he is a namesake of Sir Francis Drake who famously played bowls on Plymouth Hoe it is actually another Drake, Frank Drake of SETI fame who gets him into this team. Frank Drake co-authored with Dava Sobel a book titled “Is Anyone Out There?” about the search for extra-terrestrial life. Sobel has a stack of other credits, including “Longitude”, “A More Perfect Heaven”, “The Planets” and “Galileo’s Daughter” all of which I recommend.
  8. +Ian Gould – wicket keeper and right handed lower order batter, later a successful umpire. ‘Gunner’ Gould just about merits his place as a keeper/batter, which makes it possible for me to bring in Stephen Jay Gould, USian scientist, science writer and master essayist. I own a number of his books, including “Questioning The Millennium”, “The Richness of Life”, “Life’s Grandeur”, “Bully for Brontosaurus”, “Ever Since Darwin”, “Dinosaur in a Haystack” and “Urchin in a Storm”. Given the amount of baseball that features in Gould’s oeuvre it seems quite appropriate to find a way a slipping him into a cricket themed post.
  9. Mitchell Johnson – left arm fast bowler, left handed attacking lower order bat. The Aussie’s claims for a place need no further elaboration, and he allows me two connections. Samuel Johnson, author of the first recognized dictionary is one. There was a road not massively far from where I lived as a child in south west London called Dr Johnson Avenue, and it had that name because he used to cycle that way when going to visit his friend Mrs Thrale, who also has a road named in her honour that is even closer to my old family home. I used to walk along Thrale Road very frequently because if one was using either Streatham or Streatham Common stations it was the natural way to go. The second connection is Charles Johnson, an African American writer whose books include “Oxherding Tale” and “Dreamer”, the latter based on the life of Martin Luther King.
  10. Max ‘Tangles’ Walker – right arm fast medium. He was a magnificent third string to Lillee and Thomson in the mid 1970s, gaining big movement in the air and off the pitch on occasions. At Edgbaston in 1975 when Mike Denness put Australia in and they scored 359 Walker matched Lillee’s five wickets in the first England innings with five of his own, before ‘Thommo’ turned chief executioner in the second dig. His ‘alter ego’ for my purposes is Alice Walker, well known as author of “The Color Purple”, and also the author of a collection of what she calls “Womanist Prose”, both of which come highly recommended. She became radicalized by her experiences as a student at Spelman College (although she left that institution and moved north the New York where she studied at Sarah Lawrence College), where she met the historian Howard Zinn, someone any of whose books will be worth reading. There is a quote from her which appears on the back cover of “The Zinn Reader”: “What can I say that will in any way convey the love, respect and admiration that I feel for this unassuming hero who was my teacher and mentor, this radical historian and people-loving ‘troublemaker’, this man who stood with us and suffered with us? Howard Zinn was the best teacher I ever had and the funniest.”
  11. Harry Boyle – right arm medium pacer. FR Spofforth’s regular bowling partner. He earns his place as one half of the first great Australian bowling duo. His ‘alter ego’ is Robert Boyle whose contribution to science is covered on pages 126-42 of John Gribbin’s “Science: A History 1543-2001”.

This team has a decent top five, a couple of genuine all rounders, a keeper who can bat, and three fine and varied bowlers. Johnson, Walker, Boyle, Drake and Stevens is a bowling attack that should not struggle overmuch to take 20 wickets.

THE CONTEST

WG Grace’s XI are the stronger in batting of the two, although no side who can send Johnson in at no9 can be considered deficient in that department. But I suspect that the bowling resources of Greville Stevens’ XI are stronger overall. However countering that is the undeniable fact that WG Grace’s XI have the better keeper. I believe this would be a very close and highly compelling contest, and I cannot pick a winner. Note that the presence of Mr Bird notwithstanding I have not selected players solely on the basis of their names – it is always what they offer as cricketers that comes first.

PHOTOGRAPHS

The correction has been made and due apologies issued, the CLR James Trophy has been introduced and the contending XIs have been put through their paces, so all that now remains is my usual sign off:

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The best picture I have seen of ‘The Champion’ – this is the first page of the section on Batting in the Badminton Book of Cricket.

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At about 11:30AM this muntjac put in a fleeting appearance.

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Part 1 of publicity sheet
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Part 2
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And the whole bolted together ready for public consumption.

Detective Fiction Meets Ornithology

A review of a new find – Steve Burrows’ Birder Murders, with some Norfolk bird pictures of my own for company.

INTRODUCTION

This post concerns two books by a writer I discovered in the last few days:

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MAKING THE DISCOVERY

When I saw these in the library there was never any doubt about borrowing them – detective stories set in Norfolk and heavily concerned with birds looks a darned good mix. 

THE BOOKS

There is much of interest about birds and about North Norfolk in these books, and the strikingly different characters of each of the police officers makes for some good interplay between them. 

In the first of these two books, “A Siege of Bitterns”, the first victim is actually a birdwatcher. The second victim is a suspect in the first case until he is found dead. It eventjually turns out that the first case was not murder but suicide, and that the murderer in the second case was the MP.

In “A Cast of Falcons”, the hero’s boss, DCS Shepherd, is shown up in a very poor light when she initially refuses even to entertain the notion that the exceedingly rich Sheik who has bought an old dairy farm for his pet project (research on method of carbon capture) could be guilty. She shows herself to be more concerned with not annoying someone who is rich and powerful than with justice, which given her job is entirely unacceptable.

There is a third book in this series that I know of, called “A Pitying of Doves”, and it is sufficient comment on just how good these two books are that I have reserved a copy (costs 60p) and am awaiting it’s arrival at King’s Lynn library.

Siege of BitternsCast of Falcons

If you get the opportunity to pick up a book with the name Steve Burrows on the cover please take it!

SOME NORFOLK BIRDS

To finish this post here are some new pictures of Norfolk birds…

Bird MootBirdsCormorand and gullCormorant and gullsCormorant close-upCormorantGGGullsMagpieMoorhenPoserWingspan

Book Review: The Burning Man

A review of a book in a new find of mine, the Bryant & May series, with a few other bits.

INTRODUCTION

Although the book review is the principal focus of this piece there are a few other bits that I will be sharing afterwards.

A GREAT READ WITH A MINOR QUIBBLE

Those of you who follow my London transport themed website may recall that I posted a review of a book called Off The Rails which featured a team of oddballs collectively known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit (officially the Peculiar part of the title referred to the crimes being investigated as opposed to the investigators but one might think otherwise).

Since reading that book I have taken every opportunity to deepen my acquaintance with Arthur Bryant, John May and their team of oddballs, and The Burning Man is just one of a number of their adventures that I have recently read.

The story in this book features riots provoked in part by misbehaving bankers being used as a cover for a series of murders all of which involve the use of fire. The story has many twists and turns. There are also various subplots, principally the antagonism between the PCU and Superintendent Darren “Missing” Link.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as I have every book I have encountered in this series, and heartily recommend it. It is in that spirit that the following is offered (and I hope will be accepted)…

A QUIBBLE

To set the stage, here is a photograph of the paragraph on page 144 that gave rise to the quibble:

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How many of you can guess without reading on where my quibble arises?

If you guessed that it was the sentence “He worked with some crazy people, borderline-autistic tech-heads who were likely to turn up at the front door, find no-one home and climb through a window.” score yourself 10 out of 10.

The phrase borderline-autistic is meaningless given that autism is a spectrum condition, and the usage of such a phrase is indicative of what Richard Dawkins terms “the tyranny of the discontinuous mind”. I also take umbrage at the notion of an autistic person responding to finding no one at home by climbing through a window. Finally, as an autistic person who is skilled in the use of computers I still object to the conflation of autism and tech-headedness – while the two traits can go together they do not always do so. Finally, I find the entire sentence lazily reinforces damaging stereotypes about autistic people. To finish this section, although in one sense every post on this blog has an automatic connection to autism, you can find more posts in which I specifically deal with autism here.

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In spite of my quibble with a paragraph on page 144 I thoroughly recommend this book.

ANOTHER FIND AT THE BUS STATION

The new information office at King’s Lynn bus station is a treasure trove. My latest find focuses specifically on West Norfolk…

PLANS FOR KNIGHT’S HILL

I make no comment as yet on this scheme, which is still at a preliminary stage, just reproducing it in full…

POSITIVE AUTISM AWARENESS CONFERENCE REMINDER

NAS West Norfolk are holding a Positive Autism Awareness Conference at the Duke’s Head Hotel on Friday 15th April. One feature of this conference will be a photographic display by yours truly. I have mentioned this in a number of previous posts.

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Calling All Sherlockians…

A flag-up of the latest piece on my London Transport themed website.

The latest post on my London Transport themed website looks at the paucity of mentions of London Underground in the official canon of stories about the world’s most famous consulting detective (from whose rooms Baker Street station is visible vide The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet).

INTRODUCTION

Only one of the original canon of Sherlock Holmes stories features any action on what is now London Underground, the Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, which features tracks on today’s Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines. In The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet mention is made of the fact that Baker Street station is visible from 221B. The rest of this post is going to examine that lacuna from the London Underground viewpoint.

Read the rest of the piece at: http://www.londontu.be/sherlock-holmes-and-london-underground/

Please share widely!

Special Post: Belsize Park

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to this latest installment in my series “London Station by Station“. I do hope you will enjoy it and that some of you will be inspired to share it.

BELSIZE PARK

This station opened in 1907 as part of the original section of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, which was subsequently amalgamated with the City and South London Railway to form the Northern line. It is located on the Edgware branch, two stops beyond the bifurcation point of Camden Town and one stop south of Hampstead. Like its northerly neighbour it is very deep, and accessible from the street only by lift or staircase. Although it is shown on the maps as offering no interchanges, Gospel Oak on London Overground is walkable should one ever have reason to make such a change.

MURDER ON THE UNDERGROUND

This is the title of a book by 1930s crime writer Mavis Doriel Hay. The murder itself takes place on the stairs mentioned above, and all the action is set around this section of the northern line. Having just read the book I heartily recommend at and am looking forward to reading the other book of hers I have located at one of the libraries I patronise, Murder on the Cherwell, set in another place I have a more than passing acquaintance with, Oxford.

The front cover, showing a 1930s train (that shade of red was known because of its use at that time as "train red")
The front cover, showing a 1930s train (that shade of red was known because of its use at that time as “train red”)

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A diagram showing the layout of Belsize Park station that appears in the middle of the book.
A diagram showing the layout of Belsize Park station that appears in the middle of the book.

THE DIAGRAMMATIC HISTORY

Of course, no post in this series would be complete without an extract from London Underground: A Diagrammatic History, and here it is:

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The Railway Detective, Part 1: Books 1-4

INTRODUCTION

As well as my title piece I have a couple of important links to share. I have mentioned the Railway Detective, Inspector Robert Colbeck, in various previous posts without going into much detail. Today I am devoting a whole post to him and his exploits, which will be the first of a three such posts. WARNING: THE REST OF THIS POST IS FULL OF SPOILERS.

THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE

BOOK ONE: THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE

This book, with the title that becomes a supertitle for the whole series, is the one that introduces Inspector Colbeck, his sidekick Sergeant Leeming, their irascible and dictatorial ex-army boss Superintendent Edward Tallis. The opening crime of the series features train driver Caleb Andrews as one of the victims, and also introduces us therefore to his remarkable daughter Madeleine who becomes one of the key characters in the series.

The initial crime, while serious enough in itself is but a part of much wider scheme hatched by a stalwart opponent of the railway network whose initial hostility to the new development has been inflamed beyond the point of insanity by the death of his wife which he blames on the railways. Another element of the master plan was to sabotage the Great Exhibition by blowing up the locomotives that formed a big part of it.

It is after Colbeck has protected the Great Exhibition and brought the villains to justice that the nickname by which he will be known for evermore “The Railway Detective” is bestowed on him. This book also introduces yet another running theme, the permanent friction between Colbeck and Tallis which regularly flares into open flames.

BOOK TWO: THE EXCURSION TRAIN

A murder committed on an excursion train (hence the title) leads to the uncovering of a grotesque miscarriage of justice in which the wrong person was hanged for a murder and the unmasking of the person who saw someone hanged in his place.

Madeleine Andrews provides her first unofficial service to Scotland Yard, Colbeck making use of her communication skills and her sex to gain extra information from a female who he feels has not told him all that she might. Knowing his Superintendent’s view of women, Colbeck is careful to make sure that Tallis does not find out about this.

The details that emerge of the first murder victim, particularly those associated with his role as hangman (hence the trail to the miscarriage of justice), are such as render him as unsympathetic a murder victim as any in detective fiction (with the possible exception of the loathsome Enoch J Drebber in A Study in Scarlet).

Time for my first picture (delayed because my copies of the first three books in this series are in omnibus form)…

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BOOK THREE: THE RAILWAY VIADUCT

The viaduct of the title is the Sankey Viaduct near Liverpool, and the story begins with someone being thrown out of a train and over the side of the viaduct to his death. It so happens that an accomplished artist was present preparing to paint a picture of the train crossing the viaduct, so as well as spoken evidence Colbeck gets a clear picture of the scene.

When it emerges that the victim was a French railway engineer making a clandestine visit to Liverpool, Colbeck’s follow up action takes him to France, where with the regular assistance of Leeming and the unapproved assistance of Brendan Mulryne he thwarts a sabotage scheme intended to prevent the completion of a railway there.

A fanciful sketch by a second fine artist, Madeleine Andrews, fires a synapse in the Colbeck brain that puts him wise to the motive for the crime.

It turns out that the scheme is the brainchild of an embittered old man who fought at the battle of Waterloo, and who was unable to adapt to the notion that the French were no longer deadly enemies. It was a planned extension of the French railway to Cherbourg, a port and the site of an arsenal, that our villain could not stomach.

BOOK 4: RAILWAY TO THE GRAVE

This one opens with a particularly gruesome suicide (achieved by walking into the path of a train). In the course of investigating the crime Colbeck discovers that the victim was driven to suicide by the murder of his wife. The locals are all certain that the husband was the killer and committed suicide because he was unable to live with his actions, and have closed their minds to other possibilities. Colbeck is able to establish that the husband was not the killer of his wife, and to locate the real killer.

This book also features a battle with a particularly unpleasant specimen of the clergy who is determined to bar the suicide victim from burial alongside his wife, to the extent of defying the law. It turns out that this person has been responsible for sending poison pen letters (dictated to his wife, so it is her handwriting that Colbeck identifies) to the man who killed himself, so Colbeck is able to force him to resign his ministry.

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AN OVERVIEW

These books contain a wonderful mix of fast paced action, plot twists and a large measure of railway lore. The characters of Colbeck, Leeming, Tallis, and Caleb and Madeleine Andrews, who feature in every book in the series are well developed. While it would be pretty difficult for a combination of detective fiction and railways not to appeal to me, nevertheless, these books are particularly outstanding.

LINKS

Just the two links today, firstly to the latest on the Justice for Kayleb campaign and secondly to a petition that now has somewhere around three million signatures calling for an end to the piece of barbarity known as the Yulin Dog Meat Festivial