I picked up “The Blackpool Highflyer” by Andrew Martin at a charity shop recently, intrigued by the fact that it mentions Blackpool in the title and hoping for a story set in some familiar local places. It was – but this book had both good points and bad ones and it took me a while to get through it…
The good bits
- The story is told from the perspective of Jim Stringer, a working class railway man living in Halifax in the early 1900’s, and I really got a feel for what it was like living in that time. It was interesting to read about the day to day aspects of his life, the people he interacts with and the places he spends his time.
- A lot of the plot points happen in towns in North West England – places I’ve been such as Blackpool and Hebden Bridge, and places I know pretty well like Horwich. This familiarity was nice and novel for me, especially seeing what life used to be like there a century ago.
- I also really liked getting a feel for holiday Blackpool in its glory years. I enjoyed reading about mill owners taking all the workers on excursions to the seaside where they’d have tea at the Tower, enjoy fairground rides on the pier, stroll down the promenade and watch variety shows. This romanticised view of English seaside towns is actually really relevant at the moment.
The bad bits
- According to the reviews on the covers this is supposed to be a compelling whodunit. That is not the case. It is in no way gripping!
- The story is about someone putting a grindstone on the train track and Jim spends the whole book “investigating” it – which basically involves him thinking it might be random people, making up scenarios in his head and making tenuous connections. Every character seems to be a “suspect” in his mind, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the authorities barely seem to care – I didn’t care either.
- It didn’t help that the whodunit aspect never really seemed to hot up. Even when we find out the culprit and get the explanation, it’s a case of – “oh well, that’s that then”. Nobody cares.
So overall I wouldn’t really recommend this book. You might enjoy it if (like me) you’re a Northerner, as it’s quite a nice pleasant read in some places, but the story itself is not interesting or entertaining enough. It was pretty dull, and it’ll probably get donated back to the charity shop!