Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Edward Marston.

For  some winning an award is paramount. For others, the job of writing is sufficient reward. I first came across Edward Marston when browsing the book shelves of a charity shop. My intention had been to find a cosy crime novel for my mum. It was the covers that caught my eye. Not just the Victorian scene depicting a crowd gathered at a railway station. Not the use of orange and yellow to highlight the cover but the manner in which the publisher's at the very top centre declared ALLISON and  BUSBY Proudly Present. It was as though the novel were a feature film.  

The novel in question was 'The Railway Detective.' The first in a series dating back to 2004. I hate dipping midway into a series but as luck would have it the first, second and third books were all lined up ready to be purchased. At a quid a time, three pounds in total, I was pleased as punch, convinced mum would be delighted.

Had my intent been to manage mum's expectations then they were far and away exceeded. She loved the books, the characters, the period they were set in but more than anything the stories themselves. So impressed by them that she insisted I read one. 

'The Railway Detective”'is the first of the Inspector Colbeck  mystery thrillers. It is a story set in Victorian England in the 1850’s and is hugely influenced by the likes of Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins. In short it is a no-nonsense romp. What it lacks in emotional content it more than makes up for with panache.

Someone has got it in for the burgeoning, relatively new invention - the railway; someone has taken a serious dislike for steam trains. When a crack squad of men not only hold-up then steal bullion from a train but also violently assault the driver, Inspector Colbeck is called in to investigate.

To write such a story pacing is everything. Marston is a master of this genre. Characters are strong. Historical detail well researched and the author manages to avoid that dreadful pitfall so many fall into and does not attempt to show how clever or knowledgeable he is in either the history of the period or indeed steam-driven engines. He subtly weaves, drops little bits of information really, during the telling of the tale.

The plot is, as good plots should be, uncluttered and simple. Marston drives the story in the way his character Caleb Andrew drives his train, with coal constantly being added to give a full head of steam.

Thinking that the first book may have been a template by which further novels could be based I read the next two in the series, after all, many an author are formulaic..'The Excursion Train' and 'The Railway Viaduct'  were nothing like the first. Nor, as I have read more, were subsequent novels in 'The Railway Series.' Here is an author brimming with invention.

"My father and my uncle were engine drivers so there was constant discussion of railway lore. At an early age, I was lucky enough to be sneaked onto the footplate of a steam train and taught how to shunt. Diesel's are bigger and faster but I still prefer the era of the steam locomotive and had always wanted to write a series that celebrated it."

I said my first encounter with Edward Marston was on the shelf of a charity shop in Rochford, Essex. That much is true. However, I had 'met' Mister Marston under a different guise without realising it many years before. You see Edward Marston is just one of many pseudonyms used by Keith Miles. He also writes as Conrad Allen and Martin Inigo.

"Marston is historical, Miles is contemporary. When the first Marston novel came out, I was still writing golf mysteries under my own name and the publishers did not want to confuse readers. So we invented a different name and persona. Six of the novels by Keith Miles have a first-person narrative, something I've never tried as Edward Marston." 

Keith Miles was born, bred and educated in Wales then gained his degree in Modern History from Oxford University. Modern History being a subject on which he lectured for three years before turning his hand to full-time writing.  He began freelance writing in 1966. It is likely my first experience of his work would have been via TV series' such as 'Crossroads' or 'Z-Cars.' It was as a  radio, television and stage writer that he first came to light. If it was then I don't recollect it. Having written in excess of forty plays for theatre, TV and radio his inclination turned to his first love that of writing novels.  

Before turning to mystery/crime novels he first chanced his hand at children's literature. It was field he was good at managing to sell successfully here in the UK but without making much impact in the USA. Having been a long standing fan of Agatha Christie, James Hadley Chase, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett along with John Dickinson Carr he turned his pen toward his first love - crime fiction. 

His first novel in his own name featured the amateur sleuthing of a professional golfer named Alan Saxon. It was to prove a short-lived project with only four books being published. Then, after a decade, the publishers thought there might be some more mileage in the series and so Miles began writing the novels again.  Prior to this, he began another series, this one set in Elizabethan London based around the theatrical world and featuring Nicholas Bracewell. It was 1988 and suddenly a very prolific author had arrived. One capable of writing two or three novels a year all to a peculiarly high standard. 

How does he do it? 

"I work on enthusiasm. I choose subjects and characters about which I can enthuse because that makes me want to finish the book to see how it all works out." 

It was Nicholas Bracewell, he of the Elizabethan theatre, who first garnered considerable interest in Edward Marston. It was the historical detail that impressed many none more so than in America where it proved to be hugely popular. These novels are known by the collective 'The Elizabethan Theatre' series. There was more, though, much more. 

Next came The Domesday series featuring Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret. Both of who were appointed by William the Conqueror to investigate serious irregularities found within England's first great survey - The Domesday Book.  The series concluded in 2000. There was more to come, though. Not forgetting his work as Conrad Allen which was also being published during this period with eight novels in total published between 1999 and 2007. 

Architect Christopher Redmayne and Constable Jonathan Bale are the central protagonists in 'The Restoration Series which ran simultaneously with the above two. The novels were first printed in 1999 and concluded in 2000 just in time for a bit of a breather you'd think. Not a bit of it. Three years prior to the 'Restoration's' conclusion, Edward Marston, aka, Keith Miles began 'The Railway Detective.' 

Since then he has begun another series of novels. 'The Homefront Detective,' 'Captain Rawson' and 'The Bow Street Rivals.' All compelling and of an impeccable standard. 

At this point, I should point out that Keith Miles work, be it as himself or any one of his many pseudonyms, has never won an award. What of it? Many authors of equal ability and standing are in the same boat. As much as I accept this - for who would deny the talents of Cormac McCarthy or Haruki Murakami? - surely there should be an award for work ethic coupled with consistent quality? After all the works of any one author, however, popular or, however, many awards they win, is only a matter of someone's opinion. It is this fact that astounds me. More artisan than artist Keith Miles manages to deliver a variety of books of quality that feel neither manufactured nor rushed. This ability is what attracts me to him along with his stories. His work ethic is immense. His output ceaseless. He really is or, at least, seems to be, a writer who clocks on and does his day job. 

"It would be gratifying to be nominated for more awards, but it's not something to lose sleep over. There will always be writers with less talent who get more recognition than you and, conversely, those with far more talent who get less recognition. Writing is something of a lottery." 

Indeed, it is as most of us here will acknowledge.

This article was first published in New London Writers - http://newlondonwriters.com/

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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