13 May 2013


  • first published by Faber & Faber 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-571-24965-7
  • 290 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Baghdad 1917. Captain Jim Stringer, invalided from the Western Front, has been dispatched to investigate what looks like a nasty case of treason.
He arrives to find a city on the point of insurrection, his cover apparently blown - and his only contact lying dead with flies in his eyes.
As Baghdad swelters in a particularly torrid summer, the heat alone threatens the lives of the British soldiers who occupy the city. The recently ejected Turks are still a danger - and many of the local Arabs are none too friendly either.
For Jim, who is not particularly good in warm weather, the situation grows pricklier by the day. Aside from his investigation, he is working on the railways around the city. His boss is the charming, enigmatic Lieutenant-Colonel Shepherd, who presides over the gracious dining society called The Baghdad Railway Club - and who may or may not be a Turkish agent. Jim's search for the truth brings him up against murderous violence in a heat-dazed, labyrinthine city where an enemy awaits around every corner.

My Take

Most historical crime fiction related to World War One focusses on the Western Front so it is refreshing to find one that has a different setting. Captain Jim Stringer's introduction to Mesopotamia is a talk at the Victoria Street London Railway Club on the Berlin-Bagdad Railway. The railway had been a German scheme to connect with Asia Minor. Control of the railway becomes important to the British after they take Baghdad because it has the potential to give access to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. Turkey and Germany have collaborated in building the Berlin-Bagdad railway, a narrow two foot gauge, since 1888. Control of the railway would give Germany the ability to bypass the Suez Canal. Currently the railway is incomplete by about two hundred and fifty miles.

So control of the railway, and particularly over its completion, is particularly important to the British war effort and seems to be within their grasp. But there appears to be a traitor in the ranks who is collaborating with the Turks.

So Jim Stringer receives an assignment to Baghdad to see if he can discover whether the rumours are true. But when he gets there it turns into a murder investigation, which is right up his alley, because in civilian life he has been a detective associated with British railways in York and London. He can also drive steam trains.

I must confess that I read this book by mistake - thinking in fact that it was part of an entirely different series by an entirely different author.

There is an impressive amount of historical detail in this novel, and indeed the author says that his "description of the British occupation of Baghdad is roughly accurate". I think however that I would have benefited by getting to know Jim Stringer better through reading earlier titles (see the list below). 

My rating: 4.1

Andrew Martin won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award for the previous title in the Jim Stringer series THE SOMME STATIONS.

Series (listing by Fantastic Fiction)
Jim Stringer
1. The Necropolis Railway (2002)
2. The Blackpool Highflyer (2004)
3. The Lost Luggage Porter (2006)
4. Murder At Deviation Junction (2007)
5. Death on a Branch Line (2008)
6. The Last Train to Scarborough (2009)
7. The Somme Stations (2011)
8. The Baghdad Railway Club (2012)
9. Night Train to Jamalpur (2013)

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