Night Train by David Quantick

August 13, 2020

A woman wakes up, frightened and alone – with no idea where she is. She’s in a room but it’s shaking and jumping like it’s alive. Stumbling through a door, she realizes she is in a train carriage. A carriage full of the dead.

This is the Night Train. A bizarre ride on a terrifying locomotive, heading somewhere into the endless night. How did the woman get here? Who is she? And who are the dead? As she struggles to reach the front of the train, through strange and horrifying creatures with stranger stories, each step takes her closer to finding out the train’s hideous secret. Next stop: unknown.

This week’s read, Night Train by David Quantick, is a sci-fi thriller with just a dash of horror sprinkled in for good measure. Set on a mysterious train travelling through the dark night, full of danger and the unknown; adventure abounds. Sounds like a winner to me. All aboard, this review is now leaving the station. Please ensure you have your tickets ready for inspection.

Garland is an enigma even to herself. She wakes up alone with no memory of who she is and how she came to be where she is. A name badge on her clothing is the only clue, but is that a red herring? As a central character she works well, her drive to find answers keeps things moving forward. For Garland, accepting the status quo is not an option. The fact she swears constantly when annoyed, she is annoyed a lot, was an added bonus.

The first person Garland meets is a strange man who goes by the name of Banks. He has been on his own for quite some time, having set up a home in a buffet car.  Banks isn’t suffering from amnesia, he knows who he is, but can’t understand why he has woken up with someone else’s face. His backstory does a great job of fleshing out the wider world that the Night Train inhabits. It felt to me like Banks acts as the conscience that Garland is missing. Garland is often very single-minded and it is only Banks that makes her stop and think. They complement one another well.

The standout character for me though, is Poppy; she’s the wildcard. Confident to the point of smugness, she has all the best lines, has the snarkiest attitude and does whatever she wants whenever she wants. I love her mildly unhinged approach to everything. Poppy always has a plan of action, and it usually involves the most direct route to any given goal. When it comes to dealing with any obstacle, most people would consider how best to get over, under or around. Poppy tends to go with a default of through, whether there is an easier option or not. She has a gleeful no-nonsense expediency which leads to some of the novel’s best moments. I could quite happily read an entire novel of Poppy just getting things done in her own inimitable style.

The search for answers is always a good motivational tool when it comes to a hero’s journey, and on the Night Train there are more than enough questions to go around. As this dysfunctional little family move through each new carriage of the train, more secrets are unearthed. What unseen power is behind their incarceration? Why is it always night? Quantick drip feeds the reader little hints, scattering the plot with the odd flashback here and there to build up a sense of tension.

There some nice moments of dark humour here and there. Garland’s annoyance, Poppy’s snark and Bank’s prissy response when anyone drops an f-bomb are amusing. The constant bickering back and forth amongst the trio is fun.

The narrative is also punctuated by some moments of suitably visceral horror that were so unexpected they caught me entirely off guard. I’m sure this was a very deliberate choice on the author’s part. A word of advice, don’t snack while reading this novel. I can tell you this much, I won’t be eating soup again any time soon.

There is a cinematic sensibility to proceedings. Not as you might expect, a big screen summer blockbuster though, but something far more intense and personal. Night Train is the book equivalent of a claustrophobic little indie film where all the characters keep giving one another the side eye. Trust is in short shrift as the plot builds to the final reveal. We find ourselves continually asking the question – Who is good and who is bad? I loved it, I’m a sucker for a good plot twist or two.

Night Train is a delightfully dark experience. After much pondering, the closest I can come to describing it is the literary love child of Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer* and the science fiction classic, Cube. My advice is sit down, relax, enjoy the journey and let the train take the strain.

Night Train is published by Titan Books and is available from 25th August. Highly recommended.

I didn’t need to look far for my musical recommendation to accompany Night Train. The author very helpfully provided some suggestions in the book’s acknowledgements. A compilation album called All Aboard! 25 Train Tracks Calling At All Musical Stations from Ace Records has more train related tunes than you can shake a big stick at. Personally, I’d also recommend the original soundtrack for Snowpiercer** by Marco Beltrami if you feel you are being short-changed from a locomotive music related standpoint.

*Just about every review of Night Train I’ve read mentions Snowpiercer. Not a huge surprise I suppose, we are on similar thematic ground. I was going to try and avoid it but Murder on the Orient Express, Ivor the Engine and The Titfield Thunderbolt didn’t feel like close enough comparisons.

**Yes, I mentioned it again. Look, it’s a good film about a mysterious journey on a mysterious train so sue me.



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