Anyone who has even the slightest hint of interest in London’s abandoned railway tunnels is bound to have heard rumours of Victorian train carriages being buried within them and lost.
Most commonly claimed to have happened at the old pneumatic railway in Crystal Palace, almost every empty tunnel has been commanded for this grisly myth at some time or other.
Author Tom Brown has taken this urban myth and woven it into a modern time travelling ghost story that takes the protagonist, a retired tube train driver back to Victorian London to meet the developer of the original pneumatic railway and undo a heinous crime.
For me this is a personally interesting topic — as I have written my own e-book about the factual history before.
The novel is split into two viewpoints, with each chapter switching from modern day adventurer writing in the first person, to a fictionalised recreation of the development of the pneumatic railway back in the 1860s. The last third of the book is where the two disparate strands merge into a single narrative.
As a historical fiction about the development of a radical form of railway transport, the atmospheric, and later, the pneumatic railway, it is a fascinating read.
However, the ghost story, at least at first was more of a struggle. The retired tube train driver seemed to have a personality that would have me ditching him as a friend fairly sharpish, and the excessive detail in the opening chapters describing routes taken for walks is very train-geek in detail, and as such, quite stupefying to read.
My main gripe is that having been accosted by the long dead victims of a train trapped in an underground tunnel, our so-called hero not only fully accepts the situation, he seems to make leaps of logic about what is going on that defy understanding.
He displays a level of credulity about the incredible which is difficult to reconcile, even in a novel.
Worse still, he acquiesces to the will of the dead with almost callous speed, especially when a few pages later on he is asked to abduct a lone woman against her will.
Fortunately, the story, and the behaviour of the lead character improves, and it is worth struggling through the first third of the ghost story to get to the conclusion, and see how as history was changed in Victorian London, an alternative vision of a modern London powered by a vast network of pneumatic railways emerges.