The Horror Zine Review
The Express Diaries
by Nick Marsh
|Hardcover: 312 pages
Publisher: Innsmouth Press
Product Dimensions: 243 x 156 mm
The Express Diaries
by Nick Marsh
Review by Dr. Kevin Hillman
Set in Europe in 1925, and based around that marvellously luxurious train, The Orient Express, The Express Diaries tells the story of an ancient artefact, a statue, broken into pieces and scattered across the continent. For those who can reassemble the statue, great power awaits, but the group who are after it have evil intent. An unlikely band of people set out to find the parts and destroy the statue before the bad guys get hold of it. Naturally, it’s not as simple as it sounds. On the way, there are modern cult members as well as those the statue has corrupted in the long-distant past, and then there is the Skinless One...
The copy of The Express Diaries I had was an advance review copy. It is labelled ‘uncorrected proof’ although there is not much for any proofreader to do within its pages. The text was crisp and clean and I don’t recall a single spelling or grammatical error.
The final copy will include more illustrations and an extensive set of appendices, placing the story in the context of its time. It is fiction, yes, but the inclusion of newspaper clippings, the tickets for the trip, and other illustrations make it difficult to remember that it is fiction. The art-deco feel of the cover and of the fonts used to label each section, the overall layout and style, the language of 1925, the historical and geographical detail, all make the story feel very real indeed. It is almost like reading a historical account.
Some parts did stretch my ability to suspend disbelief—oddly, this did not include any of the supernatural aspects of the story. All of these seemed perfectly logical and normal within the context of the tale.
Where it tipped me briefly out of the story was in some of the shifts into modern frames of thought—in 1920s Europe, nobody would have thought, while being attacked by a lunatic with a high voice, ‘at least he wasn’t a smoker’. That particular prejudice is a very recent development within the UK. There was also the manner by which the party boarded the train for the last part of the journey, which took ‘suspension of disbelief’ to its absolute extreme. However, these were small matters, and considering the condition of the train on that final journey, there really was no other way they could have boarded.
Overall, I found the story intensely enjoyable and very fast-paced, and because it was so exciting, I finished this substantial book in only two evenings of reading. If I hadn’t had to catch a plane myself, I would have finished it in one day but perhaps it was just as well I did not. I might have been disinclined to travel if I had done so!
The pace of the story is really fast, which is surprising because it’s written as a series of journal entries made by the characters. Other books using that format have often suffered from long, droning explanations from some of the characters, but there are no dull passages here. Things get moving very early on, and the speed of the story accelerates as the book progresses. Just like the train, once it gets going it’s very hard to stop.
The use of footnotes was also a surprise. This is a rarity in fiction because it’s usually an annoyance for the reader. You can read while ignoring the footnotes although they do often contain interesting information, and their use declines as the pace of the story picks up.
In this book, I found them to be no problem at all, and actually add a little to the ‘factual report’ style of the story. They are included in the style of notes made by a researcher on the original journals.
The monsters are mostly human, but distorted and debased by the artefact the heroes are seeking—and the heroes are not immune to its corrupting effects either. The application of magic is logical and believable and there are costs involved in its use, which is as it should be. The non-human demon doesn’t appear until the end...but when it does, the power of the thing practically leaps off the page.
When you meet Fenalik, and later, the Jigsaw Prince, you'll think there can't be anything worse out there. Oh, but there is.
These days, the carefully defined grammar and ‘very proper’ British speech of the time might not be to everyone’s taste, but I have always enjoyed such writing, possibly because I was one of the last generations to experience strict English teaching, or maybe I’m just old-fashioned. All the same, I would recommend this book to anyone, if only to show how writing should be done.
It’s a really good story, too, full of complexities and twists and a great big dollop of horror.
See the book HERE
About the author
Nick Marsh has never forgiven his parents for giving him a happy childhood, thus depriving him of the necessary angst and bottled-up rage to become a full-time writer. Not only that, his genetic inheritance has so far thwarted every attempt to grow a beard to make him appear dark and brooding. Four weeks of strenuous effort only result in a near-invisible fluffy covering that even a student would quickly shave off in embarrassment.
Since his late teenage years he is proud that he had managed to maintain his height at a constant five feet ten inches. If only everything in life were that simple. He currently works as a veterinary surgeon in Plymouth, and doesn’t think the job is all that bad really. On his days off he spends his time being cruel to pot plants, drinking cups of tea and, occasionally, writing.
He has been a weird fiction fan his whole life, and can still remember the good old days when going out with mates meant funny-shaped dice and dragon slaying, rather than nightclubs and loud music. His two previous novels, Soul Purpose and Past Tense, are published through Immanion Press and can be found at www.immanion-press.com
Nick is married (to another vet! It makes for some very boring after dinner conversations) and has three horses, two rescued greyhounds and a psychotic cat that he can’t seem to get rid of.
About the reviewer
Dr. Kevin Hillman
Dr. Kevin Hillman is a rogue scientist and writer who normally appears online as anyone but himself. His multiple personalities include the sensible and restrained Gutbugs and the sensible but volatile Romulus Crowe, as well as the militant Leg-iron and the utterly deranged Phineas Dume. That last incarnation wrote articles for the greatly missed AlienSkin magazine and takes the credit for most of the stories.
Kevin's short stories have appeared in From The Asylum, AlienSkin, and other online venues. His novel Jessica's Trap has been released by Damnation Books. Fame beckons, although fortune remains sadly elusive.
Dr. Dume was once under the control of the AlienSkin mother, but now he is loose upon the world. You can visit Dr. Dume HERE.