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Bookends: Murder in the Train Yard June 3, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Murder in the Train Yard

The Silk Train Murder

By Dan Davidson

December 12, 2012

 

The Silk Train Murder

by Sharon Rowse

Three Cedars Press

300 pages

$15.18

 

This is the first of series that wants to be known as the Klondike Era Mysteries. I spent odd moments during the book wondering why Rowse or her publisher has chosen to promote the series quite this way. The connection seems to be that it’s late in 1899 and most of the main characters seem to have encountered each other first during the Klondike Gold Rush.

That’s not where they are now, though. Vancouver is the setting and silk, rather than gold, is the valuable material providing the apparent motive for the murder that triggers the main action of the story.

The central character is the Honourable John Lansdowne Granville, the fourth, and not particularly welcome, son of the fifth Baron Granville. He is one of those relics of the Empire, a remittance man, paid a stipend to be elsewhere, out of the sight of the heir to the title. Granville has refused his allowance and gone to the Yukon, in an unsuccessful bid to find independent wealth.

He could, apparently, manage to finance a comfortable lifestyle by gambling, as he is good at it, but a tragedy somewhere along the line has caused him to swear off the practice except in the direst of necessities, so we find him on his uppers in Vancouver, just scraping by until he runs across his old Klondike mining partner, Sam Scott, who hires him to help guard the silk trains.

Two nights into the new job, they run across the body of another man they both know, who has been shot and bludgeoned to death. They report the find to the local constabulary, only to find that the police like Scott for the caper and arrest him almost immediately, leaving Granville will no option but to declare that he will find a way to prove him innocent.

In order to do that Granville has to break his earlier vow and find a card game in order to finance his investigation, which must be completed within the next 11 days, for that is when Scott’s case will come to court and late 19th century justice can be swift.

In short order Granville acquires a sort of squire, the youngest member of the family gang that he and Scott hadn’t beaten off the trains on the first night they worked together. Trent was not a crook by nature, but he, along with his father and brother, had been desperate to pick up some money when they hired on. In Granville, Trent sees a chance to better his lot.

Much of the information Granville needs to free his friend is locked up in Scott’s head, and his old partner won’t admit to any of it until Granville finds it out by other means. His investigation takes him to several other former Klondikers, slippery fellows who were bad news in Dawson and no better here, but who have, after the manner of their kind, managed to prosper.

He also runs up against some honest citizens, one of whom is Mr. Turner, who is in the silk export business, and doesn’t seem to realize that his cross continent train shipments are carrying some contraband as well as his legitimate cargo.

There is opium smuggling going on. The ships from China are bringing it to Canada, where it is not illegal, and using the Silk Trains to get it to the United States, where it is.

Turner’s daughter, Emily, is a young woman chaffing under the restrictions of her staidly Victorian family, and she determines to assist this fascinating fellow (Granville) with his investigations. These take him from the boardrooms of the commerce to the dancehalls of the city and the opium dens of Chinatown.

In the dancehalls he discovers that Scott has one sister working the high-class boards in a manner he recalls from the Klondike. In Chinatown he finds that Scott’s other sister, which neither of the other siblings want him to know about, has sunk about as low in addiction and prostitution as a woman can go. There are no silly “sex trade worker” pretensions about her life.

In Emily’s case, she consults a medium with a couple of friends and plots to get information from her father. These disparate activities contribute both red herrings and useful information to the investigation. In addition, Emily has to exercise her wits in escaping the virtual curfew that governs her life. Some of this is quite amusing. Some of it is the serious business of a woman struggling to break free of convention.

The mystery is not particularly difficult to solve. You will know who the real murderer just has to be long before Granville and his little group figure it out, but you won’t know why until they do. Still, the interplay of characters is entertaining and I can see that this setting and cast has some possibilities.

The sequel is called The Lost Mine Murders and, while it seems to follow this one in chronological order, I’m hoping it will do a bit more to help this series deserve its Klondike connection.

 

-30-

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