Death On The Trans-Siberian Express (2021) by C J Farrington

Olga Pushkin has dreams beyond being a railway engineer (third class) in the small Russian town of Roslazny, an ice-bound settlement in the middle of Siberia. Her ambition is to become a best-selling author – Find Your Rail Self : 100 Life Lessons From The Trans-Siberian Railway – is going well, and she almost has enough money saved to study literature at University. But life is about to throw some obstacles in her way.

Poison-pen letters accusing Olga of taking advantage of an old man and rumours of a Baba Yaga, a murderous witch who lurks in the frozen forest, are disturbing the local peace, but that is nothing compared to the day when Olga is knocked unconscious by a body thrown from the Trans-Siberian Express – an American tourist with his throat cut and his mouth filled with coins. With the help of the newly-arrived Sergeant Vassily Marushkin, Olga finds herself with a new ambition – tracking down a murderer. But with no motive and no leads, is this one challenge too much?

Well, this is an odd one. While the author is Scottish, the setting seems almost like an historical novel as it is completely unfamiliar to me – it’s set in the present day but Siberia is such a different environment than what we are used to that it was, to me, deeply fascinating. The town is populated by a diverse cast of characters, all coming across with depth, in particular the lead, Olga, and Marushkin, and the feel of the whole thing is stunningly authentic and atmospheric.

There are multiple plots going on here – and by the way, don’t read the blurb as one major twist is mentioned in it – a number of which don’t relate to the murder plot and are more about the lives of the people in the village. Now, that isn’t a criticism in any way, but I can imagine that people who pick this up primarily for the murder plot (which despite the title, is centred in the town) might be disappointed when the story veers into what could be considered soap opera territory.

At the end of the day, the mystery was a bit too predictable for me – despite the large cast, there aren’t many suspects due to the fact that the death occurred on the train, not in the town.

Regardless, this was still a satisfying and enjoyable read, a look into a world that I have no knowledge of at all.

Death On The Trans-Siberian Express is out now in hardback and ebook. Many thanks to the publisher for the review e-copy.

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