Book review

Caught on a Train by Carlo Gebler (2001)

This is really a collection of three short stories all captured inside one big story.

Archie O'Hanlon is an old man now, but he still remembers that train journey he took when he was just fourteen years old, and working as a steward on the railway. The train travelled across Ireland from Dublin to Achill, a journey of about seven hours, but on one particular day not everyone who set off with the train completed the ride. What happened to them all? Archie still doesn't know, and if you think you know when you've read the book, well, you're probably off with the fairies. And that is probably where everyone else went too ...

A boot stood on the floor smouldering. I recognised it as Mr Smyth's.
The constable walked across to the open door on the other side, the one I'd jumped out.
'Sergeant,' he said.
The sergeant followed him over, I followed the sergeant and we all looked out.
There was a fire burning up among the fairy ring of trees on the hill and smoke floated into the air.
'Something wicked,' said the sergeant, 'this way comes ...'

It all started with a bit of a competition between three first class passengers. Who could tell the best story? A harmless enough way to pass the time on a long train journey. But someone has to judge, and Archie was given the task. It should have been a pleasure, but Archie was troubled by the vindictive Mr Cink. There's nothing worse than a poor loser, don't you think?

If he didn't win he wasn't going to take it kindly. I could only hope Mr Smyth's tale was so clearly the best Mr Cink would have no choice but to bow to the inevitable.

But first Archie listens to the three stories. They are traditional Irish fairy stories, all full of magic and forboding. By the end of the third tale Archie is in quite a difficult predicament. How can he deal with the deceitful Mr Cink? I wonder if you would be quick-witted enough to come up with the ruse that Archie does? Read it for yourself and see. I loved the bizarre and slightly chilling atmosphere of this book.

Very strong magic in Ireland!

What can I read next?

A short but chilling read? You could have a look at this one by Philip Pullman:

This new one by Susan Price might interest you:

Melvin Burgess has written a rather powerful ghost story:

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