Up in the Clouds

'Trans-Siberian railway, Kent style'I’ve just sent the script of Jack Colby’s fourth case off to my publishers – with bated breath, crossed fingers, wobbly legs and the hope that they will like Classic Mistake. But that’s next year’s story.

Hot off the presses this autumn is Jack’s third case, Classic in the Clouds. The featured car in this novel goes way back to the early days of motoring – 1907 to be precise, the year of the original Peking to Paris rally (or race as it became). Those were the days. The French newspaper Le Matin launched the plan and five competitors left Peking on Monday, 10 June. Two immediately got lost, but luckily caught up with the other three. One broke down through the gruelling challenges that faced them and is no doubt still buried in the wilds of the Gobi Desert. Its driver returned to Peking. The other four battled on through floods, mountains, broken bridges, storms, and money and supply troubles, and two months later, on 10 August, Prince Scipione Borghese drove triumphantly into Paris in his Itala (now in a museum). Twenty days later, the other three arrived to equal welcome, a Spyker and two De Dion Boutons. The Spyker too is in a museum. And the two De Dions? Fate not known – but Jack Colby is hot on the trail of one of them rumoured to be in Kent. He’s commissioned to find it in time for a re-run of the Peking to Paris rally. The re-run however is in Kent, with Dover standing in for Peking and a location near Canterbury for Paris. In between the towns en route are temporarily taking the names of their Asian counterparts for the rally. Take a look at the photo – that’s the Trans-Siberian railway for the day – represented in the photo by a former railway track linking the Kentish town of Tenterden with Headcorn. In the opposite direction a steam railway manned by enthusiastic volunteers operates a service between Tenterden and the magnificent Bodiam Castle. That isn’t on Jack Colby’s route, but plenty of places are, all of them going Chinese for the day. All great fun – but Jack has a murder to solve and the De Dion is at the heart of it.