EDWARD MARSTON was born and brought up in South Wales. A full-time writer for over thirty years, he has worked in radio, film, television and the theatre, and is a former Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association. Prolific and highly successful, he is equally at home writing children’s books or literary criticism, plays or biographies. The Iron Horse is the fourth in the Inspector Colbeck series.

Available from ALLISON & BUSBY

The Inspector Robert Colbeck series

The Railway Detective

The Excursion Train

The Railway Viaduct

The Iron Horse

Murder on the Brighton Express

The Silver Locomotive Mystery

The Christopher Redmayne series

The Frost Fair

The Parliament House

The Painted Lady

The Captain Rawson series

Soldier of Fortune

Drums of War

Fire and Sword



The accident could have happened to anyone but it was much more likely to befall Reginald Hibbert. He had, after all, a tradition to maintain. Hibbert was not so much clumsy as unlucky. Whenever there was an opportunity to stub his toe, or tear his clothing on a protruding nail or bruise himself by walking into an unexpected obstruction, he would somehow always manage to take it. His devoted wife, Molly, had lost count of the number of times he had returned from work with a black eye, a decided limp or a jacket unwittingly ripped open. Life with Reginald Hibbert meant that there was a constant demand on her sympathy.

‘Be careful, Reg!’ she cried.

But her warning came too late. He had already tripped over the step by the back door and pitched helplessly forward onto the hard stone floor of the scullery. The tin bath he had been carrying hit the slab with a loud clang then bounced out of his grasp. Hibbert landed heavily on his left hand before rolling over. His wife bent over him.

‘Are you hurt?’ she asked solicitously.

‘No, no,’ he replied bravely. ‘I’m fine, Molly.’

‘You always forget that step.’

‘I just didn’t see it with the bath in my hands.’

‘You should have let me bring it in.’

‘It’s my job now,’ he said seriously. ‘A woman in your condition must be spared any lifting. You must learn to take it easy.’

‘How can I take it easy on washing day?’ she said, clicking her tongue. ‘Besides, the baby is not due for months and months. Now, come on – get up off that floor.’

When she grabbed his left hand to pull him up, he let out a yelp of pain and snatched it swiftly away. Rubbing his wrist gingerly, he got to his feet and almost fell over the tin bath. His wife quickly retrieved it and put it on the table. She studied him with a love that was tempered by mild irritation.

‘I wish you didn’t keep doing that sort of thing, Reg.’

‘What sort of thing?’

‘Hurting yourself all the time.’

Hibbert grinned amiably. ‘I’m a big boy. Nothing hurts me.’

But he was clearly in pain and winced as his left hand brushed the sink. His wife took charge at once. Leading him into the next room, she made him sit down so that she could examine the injury, doing so with great tenderness. They were in their little red-brick terraced house in Crewe. Cramped, cluttered and featureless, it had two small rooms and a scullery. A bare wooden staircase led up to two bedrooms, one at the front and the other at the back. The privy was at the end of the tiny but well-tended garden.

To a married couple in their late twenties, however, it was a paradise after years of sharing an even smaller house in Stoke-on-Trent with Molly’s intrusive parents. The Hibbert household had only one major defect. It bristled with possibilities of incurring minor accidents and he had explored them all.

His wife scrutinised the injured wrist.

‘I think you may have broken it, Reg,’ she said with concern.

He gave a boastful laugh. ‘I don’t break that easy.’

‘You ought to see a doctor.’

He shook his head. ‘I can’t afford to, Molly. With a baby on the way, we need to save every penny that we can.’

‘Then stay off work for a day or two.’

‘And lose my pay? No chance of that.’

‘At least ask Mr Fagge to put you on light duties.’

‘Douglas Fagge does nobody any favours,’ said Hibbert grimly as an image of the head porter came into his mind. ‘He’s a slave driver. If I showed even the slightest sign of weakness, he’d be down on me like a ton of bricks.’

‘Then let me come to the station with you. I’ll speak to him.’

‘Oh, no! That wouldn’t do at all.’

‘You need to rest that hand, Reg.’

‘I need to do my job properly,’ he said, rising to his feet and easing her away. ‘Think how it would look. If my wife came and asked for special treatment for me, I’d be a laughing stock.’

As it was, Hibbert was often the butt of his colleagues’ jokes and he did not wish to offer them more ammunition. He was a short, thin individual with a shock of red hair and a bushy moustache that acted as the focal point in a freckled face. The fact that his pretty wife was both taller and older than him caused much amusement at the railway station and he wanted to protect her from the routine mockery that he endured. Though she was still in the early stages of pregnancy, he was afraid that someone would guess their little secret, exposing him to endless ribald comments. Whatever happened, he resolved, his wife must be kept away from his place of work.

‘That wrist needs seeing to,’ she urged.

‘I sprained it, Molly, that’s all.’

‘At least let me put a bandage around it.’

‘No need,’ he said, bending forward to give her a farewell kiss. ‘It feels better already. In any case, I have to be off straightaway. Now remember what I said – if that washing is too much for you, leave it until I come home.’

‘I can manage,’ she said, touched by his consideration. ‘Forget the washing. I’m more worried about that poor wrist of yours.’

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