The Dead Take the A Train

The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey

Titan Books, hardback, £16.99

Reviewed by Stephen Frame

The Dead Take the A Train gives us Julie Crews as the main character, a magic user in present-day New York, with a train wreck for a life. Into this train wreck step two people, Julie’s old best friend, Sarah, and Julie’s ex, Tyler. Sarah brings Julie a glimmer of hope for happiness, and Tyler brings her a dirty job, which lands her in an even dirtier dilemma. The background to all of this is a secret world of magic and eldritch nasties lurking in New York’s financial district. Wall Street is run by dark entities intent on nothing but pain and despair for humanity. Banks, eh?

It’s a nice premise to launch the narrative from, and it is a spectacular launch. The first few chapters race along, hauling you into the story. The dialogue is snappy and snarky; the horrors are suitably horrible. From that start, the story grows along two threads, one following Julie in her efforts to drag her life out of the gutter and build a relationship with Sarah, the second following Tyler in his attempts to climb the blood-slicked corporate ladder of his career. These two threads intertwine in a satisfyingly complex manner, creating enough sour to counter the sweet of Julie’s growing romance with Sarah. Along the way, there’s blood. A lot of it. And body horror. If you like disincorporated eyeballs and molars, you’re going to enjoy this book. I found it okay at first and, later, distracting, as it amounts to a lot of description. But you can skip over the body horror parts without losing much of the story, the main thrust of which is Julie’s efforts to break free of a self-imposed curse, while over at the bank, Tyler does all he can to bump off his rivals. It does feel like two entirely separate storylines for long spells of the book, but since this is the first part of a promised duology, it sets the expectation that Julie and Tyler will have their confrontation in book two.

Aside from the frequent descriptions of weird nastiness, which does become very same-same at times, and there’s only so many times you can play the ‘victim locked in eternal agony’ card before it loses its dramatic effect, the main downside of the book is that it does devote an awful lot of page space to minor characters meeting their demise. At one point, this extends to an entire, thankfully short, chapter, but it does start to feel like filler.

Aside from that, this is well worth picking up as a fast-paced, gory, dark fantasy/horror crossover.

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