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  • The Case of the 'Hail Mary' Celeste

  • The Case Files of Jack Wenlock, Railway Detective
  • By: Malcolm Pryce
  • Narrated by: Ric Jerrom
  • Length: 10 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (34 ratings)

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The Case of the 'Hail Mary' Celeste cover art

The Case of the 'Hail Mary' Celeste

By: Malcolm Pryce
Narrated by: Ric Jerrom
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Summary

It was Tuesday the second of December 1947 when Jenny the Spiddler walked into my office: almost a month before they nationalised my mother. Jack Wenlock is the last of the Railway Goslings: that fabled cadre of railway detectives created at the Weeping Cross Railway Servants' Orphanage, who trod the corridors of the GWR trains in the years 1925 to 1947. Sworn to uphold the name of God's Wonderful Railway and all that the good men of England fought for in two world wars, Jack keeps the trains free of fare dodgers and purse-stealers, bounders and confidence tricksters, German spies and ladies of the night.

But now, as the clock ticks down towards the nationalisation of the railways Jack finds himself investigating a case that begins with an abducted great aunt, but soon develops into something far darker and more dangerous. It reaches up to the corridors of power and into the labyrinth of the greatest mystery in all the annals of railway lore- the disappearance in 1915 of 23 nuns from the 7:25 Swindon to Bristol Temple Meads, or the case of the "Hail Mary" Celeste. Shady government agents, drunken riverboat captains, a bandaged book-seller, a missing manuscript, a melancholic gorilla and a 4070 Godstow Castle engine - the one with a sloping throatplate in the firebox and the characteristic double cough in the chuffs - all collide on a journey that will take your breath away.

©2015 Malcolm Pryce (P)2015 Audible Inc.

Critic reviews

“Complex absurdity of a very special sort. Anyone who loves steam trains, detective thrillers and PG Wodehouse will feel distinctly at home” (Jasper Fforde)
“An utter delight – this cocktail of the surreal and the terrifyingly real is a rare entertainment for rail fans and crime fans alike” (Michael Williams, author of On the Slow Train)

What listeners say about The Case of the 'Hail Mary' Celeste

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Proper great.

Cracking storytelling beautifully told. Why are there no Aberystwyth books available? Seems a real omission. As for this book, it's a real treat. Gripping, original and so well crafted.

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6 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Really not sure what to say

Some good ideas, some mad world building like Pryce's Aberystwyth books, but nothing really happens. And the reader has the creepiest, most patronising voice ever. The main character is supposed to be naive, but he reads him as a simpleton from a kids TV show.

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3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood but I found the story a kitch pastiche, and characters totally unbelievable - maybe that the point but in the end I found it so irritating that I didn't even finish it, which is most unlike me.

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3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A good story with a few irritations

I enjoyed this book, except the irritating "Railway Gosling" interludes at the end of every chapter. The humour tries too hard in places, but in general the story is amusing. The narration is excellent and beautifully paced.

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1 person found this helpful

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Jim Stringer written by Peter Tinniswood

Excellent Story by a great author. Very well read. Will Wenlock return? Beware of Room 42.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

On The Slow Train From Midsomer Norton...

Set on the cusp of the British Railway system's nationalisation in 1947, this quirky farce is both a clever pastiche of the hardboiled gumshoe genre and an elegiac homage to the passing of an era. As always with Malcolm Pryce, the book is written in the style of Raymond Chandler, the noir trappings undercut by the bathos of their provincial British setting and the author's love of the absurd; however, unlike his Aberystwyth novels, the hero of this new series does not speak in wry Marlowese but rather in the clipped RP of those morally certain heroes of the old time radio shows. An orphan indoctrinated into the upstanding virtues of Empire and Leibnizian optimism, Jack Wenlock is the last active agent of the Great Western Railway's Gosling detectives, at once a guileless naïf and a square-jawed biffer of blighters in the mould of Dick Barton and his like. Pryce interweaves his main narrative with the serialised exploits of Wenlock's predecessor, the legendary Cadbury Holt, whose outlandish misadventures lovingly spoof the Boys Own tales that inform much of Wenlock's own moral values. The two storylines gradually come together to uncover things long-lost or buried, whereupon eyes are opened and scales are dropped. That much of the book's nostalgic yearning is for a romanticised illusion disguising cant, cruelty and greed is typical here; dark depths are hidden beneath a lightly comic surface; Wodehousian turns of phrase misdirect from a tale of sexual abuse and child murder ("Tumby Woodside: stole money from dog; thrashed to death, 1921"). Similarly, the offbeat humour belies a level of fiendishly complex plotting that can stand alongside any of the Golden Age crime classics from which this novel draws inspiration. It should also be mentioned that Pryce's elegant wordplay and intricate plotting make for an audiobook that requires careful listening; let your attention drift at your own peril.
Despite this, the book held me at arm's length; possibly, I think, because the hero's stoic reserve in the face of such egregious villainy presented a diffidence with which I struggled to engage. On the positive, Ric Jerrom is a first class narrator and brings a deft touch to the story, his Pathe News diction on the Cadbury Holt sections being a particular delight.

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