Last train to Scarborough: steam engine noir

Although obviously aimed at Scarborough locals, Last Train to Scarborough is still an enjoyable light-hearted take on film noir.

Put steam trains into any story and you’ll instantly conjure up images of romance and mystery. Everyone has their own story, from the driver to the passengers. But one career you’d not expect to get much of a look in is the railway investigator. Being a kind of predecessor to the British Transport Police, you’d think they’d be primarily concerned with boring things such as nabbing fare-dodgers and dealing with drunken football hooligans – but you’d be wrong! Apparently, railways inspectors are just the the private detectives in film noir, embroiled in all the mystery and intrigue you can imagine. This, at least, is the premise behind Last Train to Scarborough, the first in a series of books by Andrew Martin set on the York-Scarborough line, and now Chris Monks has adapted this first one into a stage version.

So, in this story, we have ex-fireman Jim Stringer who so obviously wants to be a train driver, but his ambitious wife has grander plans for him. He is on the case of Ray Blackburn, a fireman who disappeared after working – yes, you’ve guessed it – the last train to Scarborough and staying at the somewhat bizarre Paradise guest house with its alcoholic femme fatale proprietress Amanda Rickerby. (Thinks: all of the B&Bs I’ve been to in Scarborough were quite boring by comparison – where can I find one like that?).  Also present were her damaged brother Adam with a strange obsession with fatal train accidents, and two long-term residents who were former associates in a railways postcard business: cultured Howard Fielding who covers the fact he went to prison for bankruptcy, whilst sleazy Theo Vaughan moved into a different postcard business of exotic French pictures if you know what I mean. For a while I thought Theo killed Jim as a threat to his business, after Jim had explained this great invention he’d got called “the internet” – but I was on the wrong track. Continue reading