Jim Stringer, Detective for the North Eastern Railway, pursues the case of Paul Peters, a murdered railway magazine photographer whose body is accidentally discovered while the railroad's snow gang
search for more shovels in an abandoned shed, in this fourth installment of the railroad mysteries series.
Stringer takes on the case out of a combination of boredom—he feels stuck in a rut of intercepting fare-avoiders and lost luggage claims—and an eagerness for promotion to Detective
Sergeant. His boss will have none of it, repeatedly ordering him back to the grindstone. Tension between the
two eventually comes to blows, and Stringer's job is up in the air as a result.
His job is not the only thing Stringer stands to lose in his pursuit of the case;
his own life hangs in danger as he uncovers the conspiracy behind the murder and the identity of a cold-blooded killer with more than one life.
Set in the golden age of rail travel, this Edwardian England mystery tends toward the dull despite the meticulously researched historical setting. The setting is magnificent and memorable, however; the opening, for instance, places us right in the fiery belly of the ironworks where Stringer attempts to arrest the ironman Clegg, making for a gripping read.
The trains and the world of railroad police of the era is evoked with enough realism to make you want more in the way of the story itself—certainly the possibilities of much more sensational dangers stalking the rail lines do come to mind as one reads this story.
Such possibilities are far from the writer's mind, however, and the story takes a more mundane approach, unfolding rather slowly as Stringer tries to piece together the bits of evidence into a picture of the murderous history of the elite Cleveland Travelers Club. Consequently, the story can be a little challenging for a reader accustomed to a more sensationalized approach in the murder mystery. It is not entirely lacking in tension, but the thrill-meter rises only momentarily when Stringer follows the killer on the train all the way to Scotland, teasing the reader with danger, only to fall again when the two are confronted.
One would expect that in the absence of a more sensational villain or a more sinister conspiracy, and given the historical era of the setting, the story
would focus on the brilliant detection on the part of Stringer. Sadly, there are
few such feats of intellect here; Stringer is no Sherlock Holmes.
It would seem that Murder at Deviation Junction aspires to be a literary mystery,
avoiding as it does the crass sensationalism of the murder thriller and staying
clear of the equally incredible but highly entertaining feats of mental detection. In doing so, however, it fails to engage the genre reader.