Review - ON TRACK FOR MURDER, Stephen Childs

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On Track for Murder
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Book Synopsis

Travelling from England to Australia in the late nineteenth century, Abigail Sergeant and her brother, Bertrand, are looking forward to their new life.

Leaving behind the prejudices that would likely have seen Bertrand committed to an institution before he reached adulthood, Abigail hopes their new life will offer freedom and security.

But what awaits them on the shores of the Swan River dashes any prospects of a blissful life. A murder is committed and Abigail's family is thrown into turmoil. The evidence is damning. Only the guilty would be found standing over the body clutching the bloodied murder weapon. But something is not right. Police are convinced they have their killer. Abigail is certain they are wrong. As their one potential witness is missing, Abigail persuades the detective to allow time for a search. But that time is limited. Chasing across Western Australia with a reluctant Constable Dunning as her chaperone, Abigail is determined to uncover the truth. If only she had an inkling of what that may be. Through deception, kidnap, sabotage and arson, Abigail finds a resolve she didn't know she possessed. Her understanding of mechanical principles surprises everyone, as does her tenacity. She turns out to be a capable young woman. But is that enough to save an innocent from injustice?

Book Review

Set in early settlement Western Australia, ON TRACK FOR MURDER, is an interesting look at the period, taking the main viewpoint as that of a young woman, recently arrived from England, carer for her younger, disabled brother; seeking reunion with their father, and their stepmother.

After a fraught journey with some threatening behaviour from a sailor, young Abigail and her brother Bertrand then have to battle an unwelcoming and downright nasty stepmother, and the murder of their father, as well as the re-emergence of the threatening sailor on shore, with only the assistance of a reluctant young police constable Ridley Dunning.

Mysteries set in history are a tricky undertaking, and even more so when the central character / hero of the piece is female. In the case of ON TRACK FOR MURDER, there’s no doubt that Abigail is set up as a plucky, brave, very forthright young woman, “permitted” by the police to follow the trail of her stepmother on train journey’s across Western Australia after her father's murder. Whether or not this novel works for you is going to depend a lot on whether you believe this, and whether you can accept that a young woman in that time would be able to move around that freely. You are also going to have to be comfortable that a woman with the main role (voluntarily) of caring for an intellectually handicapped younger brother has the wherewithal, let alone the freedom, to undertake this investigation.

With an historical setting, and hefty dose of romance, sprinkled with some mystery and murder, ON TRACK FOR MURDER is likely to be a book for fans of that sort of combination - where the romance and the historical observations are considerably stronger than any mystery elements. Unfortunately the mystery plot elements are a little sketchy, often inconsistent and littered with loose ends that are sort of gathered up and ticked off at the end. This often left this dedicated mystery fan feeling somewhat befuddled about a strong, independent, thoroughly modern young lady, who seemed to forget convenient clues or wait until they were no longer required until suddenly revealing all. Lurking baddies didn’t help either, particularly as there seemed to be some odd personality changes that nearly had me reaching for a pen and paper to keep track of who was being what when.

On the upside the historical observations and setting were really interesting, particularly as the history of early Perth and the impact of the railroads was a new subject / environment to be immersed in. Points also to the author for the realistic portrayal of people’s behaviour towards Bertrand which is realistically uncomfortable reading.

Whilst I’d be the first reader to admit that I prefer my romance very sparsely applied, there was still something more about Abigail that seemed to keep her slightly out of frame all the time. That, combined with the messy plot with too many cliched elements, meant that it could be that ON TRACK FOR MURDER is more a book for readers particularly interested in the history, and happy with the the romantic concentration.

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