‘Murder on the Mallaig Express’ – David Shepherd

I have come to the end of this rather interesting book. But I am still not quite sure what to make of it. On delving into some research on the author, it turns out he is in the clergy – odd start already as I’m not entirely sure members of the church should be writing about such subject material (“shock!”) – and that Shepherd’s main detective actually takes after Poirit and Marple, and that his books should make good (or “ideal”) holiday writing. So, essentially what he is saying (or worse still, what his publisher is saying) is that he is a poor man’s Agatha Christie. Not a brilliant set-up. Why have super-market brand when you can have Hellmans? For example. And why follow suit when you can strike out on your own and go for something a little more original?

That in mind, I present you with the first novel I have read by Mr Shepherd. It is a gentle read, and you get the feeling he isn’t exactly a professional writer – if that makes any sense. There were numerous places where I would have phrased parts differently, or changed words around, and that bothered me somewhat: I should not be writing an already published book for the author. Similarly, some parts of the lay-out were just infuriating. So inconsistent! If this was not your day job you would you not get someone to check it before hand? Even if you are going to lay things out the wrong way, why could you not make it all the same? Surely that is better than mixing it up. Choose a path and stick to it Shepherd!

There was, as previously mentioned, some shameful stealing from Ms Christie. It can’t be allowed to pilfer from such an esteemed author! The trick of “We found fingerprints…” – “But you couldn’t have because-!” – “Because you used gloves?”, stolen directly from Poirot’s ‘Death In The Clouds’, and the murder victim being thrown from the moving train was somewhat reminicent of the ‘4:50 From Paddington’ were so blindingly obvious. This is not cool Dave. Most glaring of all – name another famous fiction train murder! Not only was the title one word different from Agatha’s most famous novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, all the suspects in said novel wanted the victim dead – just like in ‘Mallaig’. How does one think they can get away with this…

Another massively obvious point was the lack of research Shepherd had done into this book. He talks of “cocaine parties” – but who would be stupid enough to host a party where everyone attending was either in possession or taking – or both- a Class A drug? People don’t have cocaine parties, they do cocaine AT parties. Jesus. Along the same lines (ha ha), I have never heard said drug referred to as “stuff” so many times. Some street words are frequently used, but never “stuff”. If you wanted to create an impact by saving the actual word “cocaine” until the end of the paragraph, fair enough, but use words more convincing than “stuff” in its place. Similarly, every single character seemed to be an alcoholic-which, again, is a little unrealistic. With such a large amounts of sex and drugs involved when it was not altogether necesary, one had the feeling the author was trying to act cool, and failing. I think it would be possible to have a murder without such scandals occuring and the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle he gave his characters made them, at times, a little unbelievable. His descriptions of female clothing was also much to be desired – a small point but why tackle something you know nothing about? Which he clearly did not, as some of the combinations he suggests his female characters put together where laughable and not entirely contextualised.

Having said that, the story did start off very well and rather readable. I actually took it from my parents home to finish it. But once the murder had occured, and the suspects calculted, all the rest of the book consisted of was countless interviews with the suspects and no active detection work whatsoever. Small amounts of round-ups here and there to keep the reader on-board and alert to what is happening, but I wanted the Inspector to inspect! It was so utterly boring just reading account after account of the murder. Another body wouldn’t have gone amiss. It felt it wasn’t exactly a realistic method of solving the crime, and as there was basically only one setting for the rest of the book, character development was somewhat limited. His male characters were fairly solid and enjoyable ones, but his female characters were a little boring and somewhat stereotyped. Having said that, I know from experience it is hellishly difficult to write a decent female character, who is not cliched and does have a personality.

All in all, it was a fairly enjoyable read, although you are aware you’re reading trash. The latter part here means it results in a somewhat unpenetrating and unimpressionable book, but if it is aimed at holiday reading, it seems to have achieved its purpose in life. I found the story a little confusing as there were so many characters and so many words. A lot of dialogue seems to result in a lot of confusion… There was a pretty good and unexpected twist right at the very last chapter, but the whole thing was so Poirot it was hard to take it seriously. A good attempt at a murder mystery, given the difficulty and skill involved in writing a decent one, but there are other options than copying the greats. That is no way to become a great yourself!


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