On an excursion train to the illegal fistfight between “Mad Isaac” Rosen and Bill “the Bargeman” Hignett, one of the fans is unfortunately killed before he finds out who wins.
The railroad is cutting-edge technology in 1852 London, and Inspector Robert Colbeck has the unique, if dubious, honor of being known as “The Railway Detective.” So he investigates a murder that, in the middle of a rowdy crowd eager to see more than 40 rounds of brutality, no one witnessed. While examining Jacob Bransby’s body, Colbeck discovers that Bransby was carrying a concealed dagger. When his widow reveals his real name and occupation, Colbeck understands why the man might have been expecting trouble. Bransby was really hangman Jacob Guttridge, a public executioner reviled by most ordinary Londoners, not to mention the underworld crowded on a boxing excursion train. But this news poses another quandary: Which friend or relative of the scores of people Guttridge hanged, apparently with a cruel incompetence, garroted him in revenge? Colbeck narrows it down to the family and friends of one Nathan Hawkshaw, whom Guttridge executed in an excruciatingly painful way. Hawkshaw’s friends and relations claimed he was innocent, and Colbeck determines to solve both crimes: Hawkshaw’s possible frame-up and Guttridge’s murder.
Marston (The Vagabond Clown, 2003, etc.) provides lots of interesting excursions, but the main line just chugs along.