OFF TRACK - Clare Curzon

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Book Title: 
Off Track
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9780749079468
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Book Synopsis

Research biologist Piers Egerton has been working on a top-secret project for a number of years and has finally realised it is something he wants no part of. But the people he works for think he knows too much and he realises his life is in danger.

Lee Barber is a perfectly competent train driver, whose career is seemingly ruined through one simple error. Frustrated and desperate, the two strangers are thrown into each other's paths at a pivotal moment. Bound by the strange occurrence which has brought them together, Egerton and Barber must forge a tentative friendship if either of them is to get through this ordeal alive.  

As Thames Valley Serious Crimes Squad, headed by Mike Yeadings, investigates the disappearance of one of the men, grim secrets of national importance emerge. Involvement spreads beyond the men's families to a mysterious immigrant couple with a tragic past. And suspicion falls on DS Zyczynski's journalist lover as he is drawn in to counter the threat to a young child's life.

Book Review

Clare Curzon began writing in the 1960s and has published over forty novels under a variety of pseudonyms, with twenty or so of these in the Superintendent Mike Yeadings series.  OFF TRACK is the first time I've come across this series.

It has been a long while since I struggled for months to finish a book, but reading OFF TRACK turned out to be a very disconcerting experience.  The basic plot is that Lee Barber, a train driver, leads a perfectly normal life until one night he overshoots a station and a passenger reports him.  When a drunk Lee then comes across the man he decides has reported him, he attacks him.  The hapless passenger isn't anything to do with the report, but he does turn out to be a disgruntled biological scientist, Piers Egerton, on his way to tell a newspaper reporter the dreadful secret of his work.

The reporter is, in turn, the partner of a Thames Valley police detective, who reports the scientist missing.  When the daughter of the train driver is also snatched, the Thames Valley Serious Crimes Squad is involved in the search for two missing people (the daughter and the scientist), and ultimately, the death of a stranger who dies after breaking into the Barber home.  At some point in the middle of all of this, the scientist and the train driver (the attempted killer and the victim that is) join forces, but to be perfectly honest, that was the point at which I completely lost the plot.

Whilst I don't have a problem with a certain level of co-incidence, and a reasonable suspension of disbelief I struggled from very early on with the level that was required to get involved with OFF TRACK.  Not just the idea that the Egerton would be so willing to throw his lot in with the maniac (or sad loser) that just tried to kill him, there was simply too much unrealistic behaviour going on.  Why you'd suddenly turn a simple report of a driver incident into a killing vendetta was never adequately supported by the rest of Barber's behaviour; the supposedly discontented Egerton - he of the explosive potential secret, just didn't feel right - tense or even reflective of his position; Barber's wife did manage to raise a little suspicion about her husband's behaviour, but then she becomes so disconnected from events around her children she lost all credibility.

Whilst there are a few in the supporting cast that came across as a little more believable, the general feeling of unreality made it almost impossible to find anybody to sympathise with.  The complications of the plot seemed to slow the whole story down, rather than create a tense thrilling experience, and the combination of both didn't help make the book engaging or interesting.   Add to that some plot points, that despite the interconnected nature of everything else in the book, just seem to lob out of left field and hang around forever, and the book just didn't work for me on any level.

Not having read any of the other Mike Yeardings books, it would be unfair to judge the entire series based on this single entry.  Any series that has twenty or so entries in it just must have something going for it.  Perhaps it would be best to start out somewhere else and get to know the main characters properly before giving OFF TRACK a go.

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