There is a series of novels by Andrew Martin which include the most incredibly detailed treatise on railways and railway history in fiction; or that I have come across myself, not excluding Murder on the Orient Express which was about the murder rather more than the train.
The latest in the adventures of Captain Jim Stringer, a railway detective, is called Night Train to Jamalpur. Captain Jim has been in India (The Baghdad Railway Club) checking on the various unexplained and sudden deaths on India Railways since 1917, having been invalided out of service on the Somme (The Somme Stations). He is currently investigating larceny and pilfering at some of the supply stations for the East Indian Railway. But at the same time, the appearance of deadly snakes in First Class carriages is becoming more of a concern, and although Captain Stringer is not officially investigating this, on a journey to Jamalpur the man in the next carriage is shot dead and during the enquiry that follows this incident, Jim Stringer becomes convinced that the two incidents may be connected.
Here the novel digresses into one that would interest a herpetologist, since there are varied and detailed descriptions of the various venomous snakes of India: cobras, kraits and the like and the various appalling a very different deaths that result from a snake bite from one of these.
Needless to say, there are plots and counter plots afoot and all in not what it seems…
But for anyone interested in rail travel in the post-Victorian era this sequence of novels is an absolute gem. The very first novel, The Necropolis Railway, saw Jim Stringer at the very beginning of his career, as an amateur detective investigating a series of strange deaths and goings-on at Waterloo Station, from where the Necropolis train left carrying the deceased and the funeral personnel to the outlying cemeteries in Surrey. Just the very fact of these trains leaving central London is a subject of macabre interest. There is another non-fiction book on the same subject, Necropolis, London and its Dead by Catharine Arnold.. Though obviously, this book in not specifically about railways.
The Jim Stringer novels should be of interest to anyone who likes a sound plot, a realistic scenario and some really well researched background information. The railway train connection notwithstanding, I have enjoyed learning about the intricacies of several different zones during my journey with Captain Stringer. The two novels that cover his engagement in the First World War are really fascinating. The first is set in England in 1911, a country obsessed with German spies and secret preparations for war, Death on a Branch Line and the second sees Captain Stringer on trains supplying munitions to the Front Line and it is quite gripping in the detailed analysis of the complexities associated with the simple but dangerous task of getting armaments across France.