THE RAILWAY KING by Margaret Mayhew


Email this review


Mayhew (Cry of the Owl, 1977) turns from the mostly-gothic to this tale of Kirby England, a railway king who rises in the 1840s from a poor draper's assistant to become millionaire Lord Mayor of York--and falls just as dramatically, dying in prison when the railway bubble bursts. Kirby is a rough-and-tumble sort with peasant sense, tycoon aspirations, and the vision of a great chain of railways--powered by steam rather than drawn by horses--stretching the length of England and connecting the coal and produce of the north with the markets of the south. All of which will make him a rich man and his beloved York a bustling industrial center rather than a moribund cathedral town. Kirby's love affairs are practical--sex with luscious actress Rosa Love and some high-toned courtship--until he meets Hester Gurney, a plaincloth Quaker girl whose father is a railroad enthusiast. Kirby becomes Hester's guardian when her pa dies, but he can't prevent her from marrying her sanctimonious cousin William. Only years later, when William shows his true colors by disbanding Hester's school for miners' kids and sending the pupils down to their death in his unsafe mines, will Heater be ready at last for Kirby's love; Kirby, however, is by then headed for jail. Since the people who persecute Kirby are presented as one-dimensional blackguards and the economics of speculation are left fuzzy, too much weight falls on a romance too weak to bear it. Still, a reliably brisk rail journey for those who are keen on steam and want to climb aboard.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday