New Zealand Woman’s Weekly
The very best historical fiction transports us to the past and brings it alive. You shouldn’t ever feel as if you’re getting a history lesson. You want to be totally gripped, as if you’re actually there in a bygone era with the characters.
I was definitely gripped by The Last Train. It’s set partly in the Victorian era and partly in the present day, and both story strands are compelling. Tying the two together are a place, a family and sudden loss.
The book opens on a wild, stormy December night in the Scottish town of Dundee in the late 1800s. A wealthy mill owner’s wife Ann Craig is standing with her children by a window in their home waiting to see her husband Robert’s train cross the Tay Bridge. But what she actually witnesses is a tragedy as the bridge collapses and the train plummets into the river below.
With the whole city in shock, Ann tries to find out if somehow Robert has survived the disaster. Was he even on the train at all? If not, where might he be?
In the present-day, Fiona Craig is also having a tough time. She has woken up to find her partner, an Australian chef, has disappeared, taking all their savings with him. When it turns out he’s been driving a stolen car, Fiona begins to wonder if she ever knew him at all. Her only option is to return home with her young son to her parents’ place in Dundee – a large Victorian house that overlooks the rebuilt Tay Bridge – while she tries to trace him.
With short chapters and plenty of mystery and drama, it’s no hardship to keep turning the pages of this novel. But some things about it do jar. It’s too littered with historical details that don’t really have any significance in the story. Fiona gets involved with researching a museum exhibition about the Tay disaster. This adds another parallel, along with all the deception and the missing men, but at times we stray towards history lesson territory.
Also, while the early chapters of this novel set up the women’s stories and the atmosphere so carefully, the final section happens in such a hurry that the ending doesn’t pack the punch it ought to.
This is not a perfect novel by any means, but it’s still an intriguing and twist-filled one set around a dramatic event in history.
A HISTORICAL MYSTERY IS ON THE RIGHT TRACK