A notice is pinned up in the railway police office on Platform Four at York station, announcing the formation of the North Eastern Railway Battalion. Detective Sergeant Jim Stringer recognises immediately - if not with any great enthusiasm - that he must do his patriotic duty, and join what would become known as The Railway Pals and to set sail for France.
So it is that, on July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, Jim finds himself trapped in a too-shallow shell hole, smoking cigarette after cigarette under the bullets and the blazing sun. He calculates his chances of survival, and these are complicated by the fact that both friendships and enmities have been born among the supposed pals. Even before they departed for France, a member of Jimís unit had been found dead, the body horribly battered.
During the stand-off that follows that first day, Jim and his comrades must operate by night the vitally important trains carrying munitions to the Front, through a ghostly landscape of shattered trees where high explosive and shrapnel shells rain down upon them. Close co-operation and trust are vital. Yet proof piles up of an enemy within, and as a ferocious military policeman pursues his investigation into the original killing, the finger of accusation begins to point towards Jim himself ... (hb)