Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thrilling Stories of the Railway: Review

My edition of Thrilling Stories of the Railway is an abridged audiobook with Benedict Cumberbatch reading a selection of Victor L. Whitechurch's short stories which feature Thorpe Hazell. Hazell is an eccentric gentleman detective of private means who considers himself primarily a railway enthusiast and collector of first editions. He is also a vegetarian and exercise fiend--often extolling the virtues of both to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen. The five short stories chosen for this audiobook were, I think, a fair sampling and give listeners a good idea of what kind of detective Hazell is. Info on the web would seem to indicate that Whitechurch wanted to make Hazell as different as possible from Sherlock Holmes. I would agree that he's different...but not that different. Holmes has a vast knowledge of various subjects from cigar ash to criminals to various sciences. Hazell has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything to do with railways. Holmes is eccentric in his habits--keeping tobacco in a slipper, sticking bills to his mantle with a knife, sometimes not eating or sleeping while he's on a case. Hazell has his bizarre exercises (whirling his arms about like a windmill--often in public) and his vegetarian lifestyle. The stories are also very Holmes-like because Hazell tends to keep clues to himself and spring the solution on us at the end.

Whitechurch does spin a good tale though and the BBC production dramatized the stories well. Benedict Cumberbatch is also an extraordinarily good reader. He brings each character to life and manages a broad range of accents and inflections to differentiate them. In The Affair of the German Dispatch-Box, Hazell must devise an ingenius plan to retrieve a highly sensitive document which has been stolen from the British government. It has found its way into the hands of the German attache and will be guarded on all sides on a train journey. He'll need to be quick to steal it back before it reaches the German Ambassador. In Sir Gilbert Murrell's Picture, an entire train car containing valuable paintings disappears from a goods train. Not only disappears--but somehow it has been removed from the middle of the train while the train was in motion. Hazell's skills and knowledge is sorely needed. In The Affair of the Corridor Express, it is a multimillionaire's son who disappears from a moving train. Hazell retraces the journey to find the boy before it's too late. In The Stolen Necklace, a lady begs Hazell to help when the diamond necklace that she borrowed is stolen from her suitcase. Her greatest fear is that the man she loves (who is notoriously short of funds) is responsible. She hopes Hazell can prove her wrong when he retrieves the necklace. In The Affair of the Birmingham Bank,rumors have caused a run on a Midlands bank, so cash reserves are sent for by train. Bank officials suspect an old rival to be behind the rumors and Hazell must find a way to keep the funds safe from train robbery.

It is always a treat to listen to Benedict Cumberbatch and these stories made for enjoyable trips to and from work. ★★ and a half.

This counts for "Train" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

No comments: