Andrew Martin: Blackpool Highflyer

September 4, 2022


Reader, I gave up.

I thought, when this came up as a book group choice, aha! An easy read, a detective story, the sort of thing I enjoy and can relax with. I’ve ended up resenting the two evenings I spent hoping it was going to improve, and when I got to about page 150 and saw I wasn’t even halfway through, I said, enough!

The main offence, for me, right from the start, was that it’s badly written, stylistically clunky, the author trying hard to get into an early 20th century register (when the story is set) and failing. Then, there is just too much train stuff – and I know that’s a personal preference rather than a valid criticism. The sexism jarred, too. I know that a typical 1900 male might have referred to his partner as ‘the wife’ when talking to others, but here it came up far too frequently, often several times in a paragraph, and in the narrator’s account, not just in speech. Unnecessary, and gratuitously offensive, or just plain silly. And then, the anachronisms, one of which was the final straw, with a character referring to receiving something by ‘first-class’ post… which was devised by the GPO in the 1970s, for goodness sake. People 120 years ago enjoyed several mail deliveries a day; even I can remember early morning and lunchtime post!

I was hoping for a good detective yarn at the very least, but this one limped along: why had someone tried to derail this train by putting a large grindstone on the line? Well, I’ll never know. It all felt very disjointed. Detective fiction works in various ways; effective stories often have the detective character and a sidekick as a sounding-board; if you want your detective to be a solo, you have to work rather harder on the plotting and the characterisation. And after over a hundred pages, we’d only just started to get some of the characters beyond the cardboard cut-out stage, I’m afraid.

I’ll stop there: it’s obvious I didn’t like the book. I post this review to maintain my intention of writing about every book I read.


2 Responses to “Andrew Martin: Blackpool Highflyer”

  1. Caitlin Clark Says:

    I’m glad it’s not just me! I’ve read a couple of his books and been struck by how hard they are to read. It’s almost as if he wants to put as much material in as possible but hasn’t really thought about how it fits together.
    His curated collections for the British Museum press are actually quite good; he’s got a good eye for a story but sadly that doesn’t translate into his own work.
    If your book group is looking for decent detective fiction, a few of John Dickson Carr’s have recently been reprinted. I’m reading the Hollow Man at the moment and it’s excellent!

    Liked by 1 person

    • litgaz Says:

      Your comment has me wondering about the purpose of an editor nowadays! Detective fiction isn’t one of my normal go-to reads but I do enjoy a well-written novel from time to time. This was someone else’s choice…


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