Title: The Last Train
Author: Sue Lawrence
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th January 2018
Synopsis: Sue Lawrence serves up a brilliant historical mystery, meticulously researched and densely plotted, with plenty of twists and a gripping climax.
At 7 p.m. on 28 December 1879, a violent storm batters the newly built rail bridge across the River Tay, close to the city of Dundee. Ann Craig is waiting for her husband, the owner of a large local jute mill, to return home. From her window Ann sees a shocking sight as the bridge collapses, and the lights of the train in which he is travelling plough down into the freezing river waters.
As Ann manages the grief and expectations of family and friends amid a town mourning its loved ones, doubt is cast on whether Robert was on the train after all. If not, where is he? And who is the mysterious woman who is first to be washed ashore?
In 2015, Fiona Craig wakes to find that her partner Pete, an Australian restaurateur, has cleared the couple’s bank account before abandoning his car at the local airport and disappearing. When the police discover his car is stolen, Fiona conducts her own investigation into Pete’s background, slowly uncovering dark secrets and strange parallels with the events of 1879.
Three days after Christmas in 1879, the Tay Bridge is battered by a violent storm that destroys the bridge and takes all the passengers on the train down to a watery grave. At home with her children, James and Lizzie, Ann Craig is waiting for her husband Robert to return from visiting an elderly relative in Edinburgh. Ann sees the tragedy as it happens, convinced her husband is aboard and in a watery grave, never to be seen again. Living in a town of mourning, Ann’s doubt that her husband was aboard the train starts to grow, and after a young woman is washed ashore, a mystery surrounding her death, and Ann’s missing husband begins.
Over a century later in 2015, Fiona Craig awakens to find her partner, Pete missing, and all their savings gone. She and her son move in with her parents, Dorothy and Struan, whilst trying to rebuild their lives after Pete has disappeared. What Fiona discovers as she looks into Pete’s whereabouts and disappearance are strange parallels to the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. What will the mysteries of time and space reveal to these two women, generations apart?
Based on the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879, The Last Train combines historical fiction elements with intrigue, and elements of mystery. Told in alternating third person perspectives in the days following the Tay Bridge disaster in late December 1879 and early January 1880 and in 2015, the stories mirror each other in some ways with subtle differences to the stories, and more than one mystery to be solved along the way. What connects Ann and Fiona is the desire to keep their children safe, and a desire to find out the truth of what has happened to the men they share their lives with, even if they go about it in rather different ways. Fiona’s interest in the local history pulls her into a job helping curate a memorial for the 1879 disaster, uncovering names and stories that bring light to those who perished, and will solve the questions of Fiona’s secretive father Struan as the novel’s climax brings it to a dramatic and satisfying close, that sews together all the strands that have been dangled.
An enticing historical fiction novel tinged with two mysteries that allow secrets to be revealed and families to become close. Scotland’s landscapes and history are as important as the characters of Ann and Fiona, and the nation itself, in particular Dundee, play an important role in the story and who the characters are. A well-rounded novel for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.