Hell Train by Christopher Fowler
Imagine there was a supernatural chiller that Hammer Films never made. A grand epic produced at the studio’s peak, which played like a cross between the Dracula and Frankenstein films and Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors…
Four passengers meet on a train journey through Eastern Europe during the First World War, and face a mystery that must be solved if they are to survive. As the ‘Arkangel’ races through the war-torn countryside, they must find out:
What is in the casket that everyone is so afraid of?
What is the tragic secret of the veiled Red Countess who travels with them?
Why is their fellow passenger the army brigadier so feared by his own men?
And what exactly is the devilish secret of the Arkangel itself?
Bizarre creatures, satanic rites, terrified passengers and the romance of travelling by train, all in a classically styled horror novel.
The year is 1966, and a screenwriter from the states travels to Hammer studios in the UK, where he is given 5 days to come up with a new horror script for consideration. So begins the story of the Arkangel, a big, dark, beast of a train that travels through Eastern Europe during the horrors of WWl, collecting souls for harvest. Four rather unlucky passengers will meet on the Arkangel and will be put to the test; a test that will dictate the fate of their lives, and their souls.
Hell Train was a change of pace for me, and I’m so glad I picked it up. The story begins with a young girl finding a game in her family home containing a mechanical train and game pieces representing the passengers. In spite of her trepidation, she places the passengers on the train and winds it up. We then join our four main characters on the Arkangel. There is Isabella, a beautiful girl from Chelmsk, eager to get away from her arranged marriage and the increasing darkness of her village, Nicholas, a handsome rogue with a shadowy past, and a vicar and his scheming wife. They will encounter a number of horrors aboard the Arkangel, including a casket with a very nasty inhabitant, killer beetles, a lady in red who is as dangerous as she is beautiful, zombie soldiers, and much more. They’ll be forced to confront the darkest parts of their hearts and face their deepest fears if they’re to survive the Arkangel’s descent into Hell.
Christopher Fowler is a pro, and it certainly shows in Hell Train. It’s very well plotted, moves along at a breakneck pace (fitting for a book about a Hell Train, yes?), and his references to classic horror and horror greats, such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee will make any horror fan smile. Don’t be fooled by the somewhat campy cover (which I love, by the way). Hell Train covers some serious and disturbing territory, but the author manages to do so without sacrificing (sorry about the pun) the fun that was ever present in classic horror. There are some gruesome scenes, as well, but you’ll have fun cringing (and you will cringe), and rooting for the heroes to escape with their souls intact. Hell Train is a helluva fun ride and not to be missed by horror fans. Even if you don’t consider yourself a horror fan, give this one a try. You just may be surprised!