"The best of the ‘railway detective’ novels on the market."
"I must congratulate you on yet another gripping read, I thoroughly enjoyed The Mountsorrel Mystery and read it from cover to cover on my day off."
Hilary Cooper, Great Central Rly Bookshop
"I read Blood & Custard in two and half days almost non-stop (a first for me!), mentally submerged in smoggy Leicester while actually in the southern Italian sun by the pool...
An absolutely brilliant achievement. The (NO NAME TO AVOID SPOILING) are a creepy creation par excellence, with some really psychologically scary scenes. I thought you handled the deeply sensitive child abuse subject with a masterful lightness of touch while using it for maximum dramatic effect.
This is a book which takes you to a new level."
This series combines social history with the intrigue and suspense of a good crime novel.
In the latest exploits of DI Vignoles and DS Trinder in "Blood & Custard", the duo are investigating the disappearance of a (growing) number of youngsters. A common theme is that they were last seen close to a railway station or engine shed. Suspicion falls on a number of people and if the police had been quicker to act, perhaps a life could have been saved.
The story comes to an exciting climax on a desolate railway embankment. There is also a little love interest along the way for one of Vignoles colleagues, to enliven the rather grim storyline.
If you've not read any of the series, I'd recommend starting with the first (Smoke gets in your eyes) and reading them in order, though they can be read as "stand alones" too.
Well worth five stars.
"Stephen, Blood & Custard is bleeding unputdownable fantastic! One of those novels you MUST snatch a read at every turn and cause you nearly to miss your bus stop , so engrossing is the story. My Reading Group are doing it for our October meeting." Ewan Wilson, Crime Buyer for Waterstone's, Glasgow
"As for NBR, I have indeed chosen it as one of my three 'Ewan'd love from Santa' choices of the year which gives it extra prominence in the shop.
I must say I think it is surpassingly good, gripping right from word one!!"
Ewan Wilson, Crime Buyer, Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Steam Railway Magazine review, December 2015.
Great review in Mainline Magazine 137 Winter 2013
Feature in the Wirral News by Linda Foo Guest
SUPERB PAGE-TURNING BOOKS
'Superb page-turning books. I live in Woodford Halse, and can still recognise all the locations here.The atmosphere is gripping - read A Murder of Crows during the cold weather in early 2010. That really enhanced the feel of the book!Keep up the great work!' Paul Hatherly 10th October 2010
4 out of 5 stars Dirty Girl gets Evil Eye, 20 May 2012
The Last Train to Brackley Central (Inspector Vignoles Mysteries, no 5)
"Blimey, our dear Inspector Vignoles gets mixed up with ghostly goings on at Brackley Central. Helping him to solve a murder, or two, or more, are all our favourite characters; DS Trinder who's finding life as a new father rather tiring, PC Blencowe, WPCs Benson and Lansdowne, etc. All in their own ways play a part in solving this mystery - none more so than the ghost who points the way to the perpetrators of the grisly deed.Yet again Stephen Done does an excellent job of recreating life (and death) in Britain as the austerity years drag on into 1950 and readers are reminded that aspects of life now commonplace were then still illegal and dangerous. It is a brave move to make a spectre central to a crime novel but it's been done with panache in this case. Where will 1951 find Inspector Vignoles? I, for one can't wait."
"I have nearly finished reading your book The Last Train to Brackley Central. I have really enjoyed it as it has bought back memories. My Grandparents lived in Woodford Halse and I went to school there. I know the names are not real (but are thy)as my Gran had a friend called Mrs Blencoe. My Granddad worked on the railway on the line to Marylebone, he was a guard, not a driver and his name was Boswell. I find this spooky - even spookier than the plot.
I will now read more of your books as I have found this one full of memories of The Goss and the White Heart which was demolished years ago, but as a child I remember it. As a teenager I went to dances in the Goss, that was 50 yeara ago. That was where I first saw my now husband." Kindest regards Carole
For a review of The Last Train (to Brackley Central) and the other Vignoles books, check out this great site for all lovers of steam railways!
The review in full:
The Last Train (to Brackley Central)
Stephen Done’s latest instalment of British Transport Police’s Detective Inspector Vignoles’ exploits is very much a ghost story. This is Mr Done’s fifth book about the detective inspector and it is now 1950. The world has moved on, Britain may still be in the grasp of post-war austerity measures but nationalisation is the new reality for those working on the railways and there are still loose ends that need to be cleared up after the disruption of wartime.
A valuable ring has, over the past sixty years, been lost, found and taken. Enter Richard Irons a newly qualified teacher who finds himself drawn into an eerie game of hide and seek with an enigmatic young lady he meets on the last train from Marylebone to Brackley Central: A young lady who disappeared seven years earlier and is assumed to be dead; which she is. Irons is led into carrying out a single burglary, is caught, released and ends up murdered himself.
Detective Inspector Vignoles, Sergeant Trinder, Constable Howerth (given a second chance after being dismissed from the railway due to his unfortunate involvement with a gang of crooks in an earlier volume), Eddie Earnshaw (his friend, still trying to make his way up as a fireman) and signalwoman Laura Green, all end up involved in the ghostly investigation.
Those that prefer their ghost stories to be a little more circumspect as to whether or not there really is an unseen force at work may not enjoy this story, but ultimately a satisfactory conclusion is reached where the wrongs of the past are brought to light, and paid for, and we are shown that a ghost on the railways can be peaceful.
The good detective inspector, along with his police and railway colleagues, has been tangled up in a number of remarkable cases over the five books in which he appears. He’s been sent to investigate in Europe and now has to consider the spirit world (though he’d be loathe to admit it). Leaving aside the extraordinary situations – well ordinary day-to-day railway policing wouldn’t make half as interesting a story – all five books are well grounded in their time, with plenty of railway and social detail to colour the scene, but never so heavily laid on to get in the way of a good yarn.
SELF-PUBLISHING MAGAZINE SPRING 2012
A wonderful review of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes!
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Having already discovered two series of excellent railway detective stories, featuring a Victorian detective (Inspector Colbeck created by Edward Marston) and an Edwardian one (Jim Stringer from Andrew Martin), I recently discovered a new set of railway detective stories set in the austerity years immediately after WWII. Detective Inspector Vignoles and his team from the LNER Police find themselves investigating a gang of banknote counterfeiters, with the “assistance” of two young locomotive cleaners.
Alongside the action there is a skilful evocation of Britain and its railways immediately after the war; the infrastructure almost worn out, women still employed in the roles they took up to free the menfolk for active service (but expecting to be dismissed as the men returned), rationing and shortages, the black market, and the looming spectre of nationalisation. Stephen Done’s writing conveys all of this background colour in ample detail but without ever getting in the way of the story being told. This has the feel of being an historically accurate book (with the exception of the presumed existance of a detective branch of the railway police – and even then I wouldn’t have known if Mr Done hadn’t come clean in his forward) and a good story to boot.
There are currently four books in this series – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, The Murder of Crows, The Torn Curtain, and The Marylebone Murders – set between 1946 and 1949; and I am currently working my way through them all.
“I love it! A real page-turner.” Daily Mirror
“Move over Aidensfield, the new Heartbeat could be here!” Daventry Post
"Not just splendidly paced crime thrillers, not just delicious treats for all steam train enthusiasts but really vibrant social portraits of the life and mores of the immediate post war, Austerity Britain. I intend putting them in my 'Best Read of the Year' slot in the run-up to Christmas." Ewan Wilson, Crime Ficton Buyer, Waterstone’s
THE TORN CURTAIN
MAINLINE – The magazine of the Friends of the Great Central Main Line.
For this third in the Inspector Vignoles novels, author Stephen Done takes our intrepid Leicester Central based detective into the midst of the Cold war in Trieste.
In this episode, we move on to 1948, the year of the Locomotive Exchanges, as Inspector Vignoles becomes involved in trying to solve the mysterious deaths of two British soldiers working on the the railways around Trieste.
He soon finds he is dealing in the dark and dangerous world of espionage where determining friend and foe is less that straightforward. With secrets to be revealed, there are repercussions that could start a major conflict between East and West.
As we have come to expect from Stephen, the story is detailed and fast moving, with an incident on every page. And it is all beautifully told against the background of austerity and tension between East and West at the time.
The book is thoroughly recommended for providing and exciting and captivating read. A worthy volume to go along with Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and The Murder of Crows.
By Dennis Wilcock
A vividly-drawn picture of post war England as it struggles to emerge from wartime austerity. This detective story is skillfully constucted and features a host of well-observed characters whose difficult lives are linked by the old Great Central Railway and a most unusual crime. Bags of wonderful nostalgia and a a gripping denoument. Thoroughly enjoyable on several levels.
- Tony Boullemier, author of "Leonie and the last Napoleon".
‘I have to say how thoroughly enjoyable both books were. The attention to detail and descriptive atmosphere were very absorbing, add to that the gripping storyline and the depth of the characterization, and this made them amongst the best books I have read in recent years.’
An absolutely rivetting story
RP, British Railway Modelling,
October 2008, Vol16, no 7
It was a period of austerity, of ration books, black marketeers and spivs. It was 1946 and for many people in their struggle for survival, it was a time when one had to simply make-do-and-mend which is why, possibly, one of the characters in this , the first in a series of Inspector Vignoles stories, happens to be a dressmaker, a practical woman, and evidently a very attractive lady too! We now wait for 1947 to come along and learn how our dressmaker deal with the 'New Look'. But here the focus is on Inspector Vignoles and his assistantr Sergeant Trinder of the railway police, who need to bring to justice a gang of counterfeiters who use the railway as an important element in their villany.
This is not so much a whodunnit but 'how do you catch the buggers red-handed and make the court case stick' sort of book which leaves a few questions unanswered, but nevertheless doesn't stop it from being an absolutely riveting story. It has all the elements of a cracking yarn - tension and suspense that wills the good guys to hurry up and catch the villains and a love interest whcih albeit comes as a bit of an afterthough but hopefully can be developed in future books.
By setting the scene with Woodford Halse engine shed as the main backdrop, perhaps the author is limiting his scope for future Inspector Vignoles stories asit is hardly credible that one single engine shed is a breeding ground for a wide range of serious crime. Through some of the charaterisation one can easily imagine a typical 1940's scenario, for example, the young fitters made careful notes of their observations, diary-like, around Woodfrod Shed. One could have some sympathy for the individual who allowed himself to be sucked in under the tempting influence of the villains after a lifetime's service to the local railway and local community and after a while realising, only too late, that htere was no turnig back.
On the other hand, the author hands a form of natural justice to the fellow who has nastiness writ large and deep within him like a stick of seaside rock; thereby reaching a most satisfyingly spectacular, albeit gruesome, conclusion.
It would be nice to see Inspector Vignoles join the likes of Morse and Wexford in the expanding ranks of literary sleuths.
The first of many (I hope) Inspector Vignoles mysteries.
By Sian Harrington
8 Mar 2008
What a page turner! An atmospheric and gripping story set in England in the austere post 2nd world war period. The characters are painted very vididly and are (mostly!) very sympathetic! I loved the historical authenticity too - lots of women were working during and just after the second world war and the author demonstrates how they were involved in daily life.
A time for revolution and cleaner steam engines
By Dave Baker
An intriguing mystery, warm-hearted and evocative of the time in which it is set - just after the last war. All of the characters and settings ring true - you really feel that you are transported back in time, on the footplate of a war-weary steam locomotive. If you are interested in the history of the railways, you'll love the detail - if, like me, you're not too much of a trainspotter, you'll love the way the human drama unfolds.
Behind the main story strands, state nationalisation and emerging equal rights issues colour the palette - but the author gives this a gentle sepia wash rather than the usual full-on treatment. And his messages are, in many ways, all the more powerful for it.
The author paints a picture of how this could have been a time for revolution, with shortages of everything, except for potential victims of loan sharks, counterfeiters and small-time criminals. How the 'good guys' deal with the threats posed a sinister, burgeoning underworld, growing in the heart of their community and infecting the creaking instruments of the state is the real point of interest in this novel. And the ways in which the various issues raised by the author are resolved are ultimately very satisfying.
All in all, just like the railway system described in 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes', you get the sense that, in post-war rural England, 'whistle while you work' and 'make do and mend' attitudes were formidable weapons in the war against, on the one hand, societal change and, on the other, gangsters, spivs and kidnappers.
A thoroughly enjoyable read.
On the right track for literary success.
By Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post
February 4 2008
A new detective is steaming into British fiction – meet Inspector Vignoles of the station yard.
Peter Elson talks to his creator:
STEPHEN DONE knew he had to get his life in order and find a purpose and meaningful direction, without frittering any more of his time away.So, with no further ado, he announced to his mother that he was going to be a steam engine driver.
After all, on your eighth birthday it’s important to get these matters resolved. But fate was about to unleash a devastating blow.
His mother, like all good mums, was surprisingly well-versed in the interests of her young son and had to break the awful news: “Stephen, I’m afraid the very last steam train is running tommorrow...”
Now aged 47, Stephen recalls this moment: “It was August 3, 1968, and a defining moment when British Railways banished the steam train. I suppose I’ve been looking for something else to do ever since.”
Not that he’s been idle. Currently curator of Liverpool Football Club’s Museum and Stadium Tour, at Anfield, he graduated in fine art at Leeds Poly and then museum studies.
“I think I’m the only person employed in Premiership football who’s got a degree in fine art,” chuckles Stephen, who lives in New Brighton.
His latest achievement is publishing a detective novel called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. A warm human drama, it combines his love of railways, detective fiction and the immediate post-war period, a time of massive social change.
Inspiration for the book emerged in autumn, 2005, as he was sauntering down a railway line in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, where his partner, Irena, lives.Luckily, for his own well-being and detective fiction, he wasn’t mown down by the 8.21 Trans-Balkan express, but returned home with the germ of a story.
“This storyline wouldn’t go away, even though I never had any ambition to write a novel. It was about a lad, Edward Earnshaw, who’s going to become an engine cleaner.
“I imagined him working in his father’s bakery, taking his bike out to make deliveries to a station refreshment room. I realised I had the beginning of a book.”
His main character is Insp Charles Vignoles, a name borrowed from a leading Victorian railway engineer who worked on the pioneering Liverpool & Manchester Railway and also assisted Stephen’s hero, IK Brunel.
Rather cleverly, this fictional Vignoles occupies an entirely invented role of a staff railway detective on the old London & North Eastern Railway, allowing him to roam among an endless parade of personalities and locations.
“This was an age when work was very compartmentalised. The great thing is that I get him to do whatever I want, and go where he likes, no door is ever closed to him – the opposite of reality,” says Stephen.
Unlike his bewhiskered 19th- century namesake, Stephen’s Vignoles is in his early 40s and more a dashing Cary Grant or James Stewart figure. He’s very well dressed, as his wife is half-Italian and very stylish.
“Vignoles is very English and educated, giving chance for great play on the class differences. Unusually, I’ve given him two assistant WPCs, which gives the stories a lot of scope. Around 100,000 women worked on the railways in 1946,” says Stephen.
“This is not a book aimed at train buffs, that’s just the setting. It soon became clear that it would be a series, and I’m already onto the next. Dreaming up the characters is enormously enjoyable, they just appear. I’ve no real idea where the characters and plot come from, my imagination, I guess.
“My earliest recollection is being read to as a child, and my father was an English teacher and later a head teacher. So books have always been a part of my life.
“I know I’m quite good on observing language and mannerisms, so it’s quite easy for me to picture the way people talk and convey, say, joy, or sorrow, or nervousness.”
Stephen’s influences include Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and the smoky mysterious world conjured up in post-war film noir cinema such as Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
“The book’s set in 1946 when everyone smoked – as well as the steam engines. I’m actually a passionate anti-smoker, but people have interesting smoking mannerisms; they fiddle with cigarettes or pipes to buy time or aid thought. I spent a lot of my time around railways, assimilating their smell and sound, and I raid that rich vault. Hopefully, anyone familiar with railways should feel this is a convincing world.”
As a child of the 1960s, it was a very bold step setting the book in 1946, a time very far away, but one with plenty of survivors set to pick him up on anachronisms.
“I’m extremely interested in that period. I’m very sympathetic to Clement Attlee’s Labour government when big, big ideas were put forward almost as a social experiment,” he says.
“It was terribly exciting. It didn’t all work and some of it was a disaster. Just about everything – bar the NHS and free schooling – has been dismantled.
“In 1946, the railways were about to be nationalised and, of course, since then have been de-nationalised.
“This was set against one of the most difficult periods for Britain, with the acute rationing, often worse than during the actual wartime. There was also the black market with some people taking all manner of illegal opportunities to try and get by, which is great material to use in my book.
“Whilst the railways were still spread right across UK, they were worn out by the war and kept going only by the sheer skill and dedication of the workforce.
“In my book, you find that rarest thing, a couple of bad guys on the railway, trying to do something utterly selfish which happens when you’re short of everything,” he says. “They’re hapless criminals who are hardly the most evil in the world, but get deeper and deeper into trouble.
“Because of my natural interest in the period, I’ve not done that much research but have tried to give the story a gentle sepia wash of the time.
“Characters refer quite obliquely to an event happening at that moment, without explaining in great detail. Just as today we might refer to the ‘credit crunch’ without giving detailed explanations each time.I’ve mentioned products or foods in passing, just to capture a flavour and also show how things were done at that time. Watching films of the period helps. British films were more down to earth than Hollywood, even a railway-set rom-ance like Brief Encounter.”
While avoiding obvious anachronisms like mobile phones, most people also did not have washing machines, and televisions were barely known. I took a lot of time studying fashions of the time, finding photo-graphs that fitted what I imagined. Men always had a hat and would never leave home without one.
“My father and uncle gave me a lot of guidance over language that almost seems quaint now. You have to get cursing to a level that existed, which was still regarded as strong.If people back then swore like you openly hear now, the effect would have been like a neutron bomb going off!
“There were other interesting pit-falls. The word ‘buffet’ didn’t arrive until the early 1950s, and certainly wouldn’t have been common in provincial England.
“I used a historic language forum to check this, so we went for ‘refreshment room’. It’s a small detail but important and captures a lovely flavour of the period.
“I want the my crime to be a vehicle which allows you to learn about characters and place, not as an excuse to go into surgical detail, and to to be shocking and repellent. For me, the crime is the vehicle to see how people work together and how things are made to happen.”
Stephen’s setting was chosen perhaps sub-consciously, but it soon metamorphosed into th area around his East Midlands childhood home, near Woodford Halse, Helmdon and Brackley, close to the former Great Central railway, which ran from London Marylebone to Leicester, Manchester and Liverpool Central.
“It is a very familiar location and rather special now, having lost my father, Harry, in August, 2006. He was very supportive reading my early drafts of the book, and my mother Shirley still lives in the area, at Brackley.
“It’s also tragic that this beautiful railway, which could have been so useful to the country, was destroyed by Dr Beeching’s network closures, but in my imagination it comes back to life and is full of vitality.
“I’m very pleased that it’s tapped into other local people’s memories and I’ve had a lot of gratifying comments about how touched they’ve felt.”
Like the rhythm of a steam train ...
By Shirley Townley
This story to me is set around the " STEAM TRAIN ".
This was part of my childhood as the L.M.S. line ran directly past my school. I was never avid about collecting numbers, using rulers, coloured pencils or the thrill of another " NAMER ". But my two brothers and their friends used "us" girls to verify the numbers and especially the names of passing locomotives.
As I read your book the length of the opening chapters seemed to have a rhythm similar to long forgotten steam train journeys. The short initial burst of steam as the engine pulls its carriages away from the station.The steady lengthening of the thrusts of steam as the train gathers speed down the line. Then full stream ahead! Finally we were on our way to North Wales for the holidays, Birmingham to see Grandma or faraway Yorkshire for further education.
Just a personal feeling I am sure but nevertheless as your opening chapters lengthened that was what stirred my long forgotten memories of the "STEAM TRAIN ".
Thank you for a most enjoyable read and a very pleasant re-awakening of times past.
A Twitcher moment
By Sean Baggaley
I enjoyed the book a lot ... I am always up for a period romp and the whole story had a nice old-fashioned feel (I think because of the youngsters’ involvement) My only historical quibble might centre around why there was no mention of it finally being normal summertime in 1946 after years of double summertime. But hey, we’re all anoraks about something. I particularly liked the 'twitcher moment' when everyone took time out to admire a barn owl.
And the preview for the sequel looked good too ...
A compelling read.
By Hilary Cooper (GCRly shop)
I purchased a copy for myself at the weekend and am currently just over half way through. It is a compelling read & almost burned the dinner the other night because I got my nose stuck into it!
Should go down well at the War Weekend i think.