‘I heaved in a gasp of horror and astonishment. For what I was looking at was no animal; it was no living thing at all. The whiteness was the white of bone, and the bone belonged to a human hand: a skeleton’s hand, glowing in the mist above a slender wrist, all of a piece, functioning together, yet with nothing between each bone. No ligaments, no tendons, no muscle: just air.’
In the mid-19th century, with London grinding to a standstill, civil engineer Thomas Webster Rammell fights to get the city moving again by realising his dream of air-powered trains – so saving his fellow citizens from the unimaginable horrors of an underground network powered by steam. Meanwhile, in the present day, ex-tube driver Eric moves to the airy slopes of Upper Norwood in south London, where he goes walking amid the ruins of the old Crystal Palace. It’s a strange place – desolate, deeply melancholy – and gets stranger still when he’s attacked by a vengeful skeleton, lurking in a buried Victorian railway carriage.
Inspired by two true stories, Strange Air interweaves the irresistible tale of one of the Victorians’ most fantastic inventions with the history of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham – that piece de resistance of Victorian endeavour, which graced the airy heights of south London from 1854 until its fiery destruction in 1936. An exhilarating blend of railway history and suburban fairytale, the novel reveals how close one man came to changing the history of London’s public transport – and exposes the truth behind the tragic demise of the once-mighty ‘people’s Palace’.