BOOK REVIEW: The Express Diaries by Nick Marsh

The Express DiariesA very beautiful book landed on my ‘to be read’ pile the other month. A hardback which takes you back to a nostalgic era of printing, reminiscent of the early 20th century, complete with a thin cloth book marker sewn into the spine and some wonderfully presented artwork throughout from Eric M Smith.

Said book was The Express Diaries by Nick Marsh, a tale set on the Orient Express in the Europe of 1925. Mixing mystery, murder and the occult, plus heavily tinged with Lovecraftian concepts, does The Express Diaries deliver, or is it all style over substance?

 

 

The Express Diaries is a fun read, for a tale of horror, pulling together a collection of eccentric characters, most notably Betty Sunderland, an elderly matriarch with a penchant for the mysterious, and Colonel Neville Goodenough, veteran of the Boer War and First World War. Accompanied by Betty’s niece Violet Davenport and secretary Grace Murphy, they find themselves embroiled in a dangerous chase across Europe in a hunt for the Simulacrum – a sinister statue split apart long ago and scattered across the Continent. Throughout, our heroes are beset on all sides by evil forces intent on recovering the Simulacrum for themselves and controlling the twisted power contained therein.

The story is laid out before us in the form of diary entries (hence the title) and newspaper clippings with each main character committing the events of the day to paper. Initially this works well, giving us insight into the innermost workings of our protagonists whilst moving the story on at a pace. It also raises a chuckle as the conflicting opinions of events through each character’s eyes come to play – Colonel Goodenough’s opinions on his own abilities contradicting with that of the younger members of his party spring to mind. However, after a while the continual changing of perspectives does become a little tiresome as we interchange between characters, and I found myself having to remind myself which character I was reading.

There is plenty of adventure, intrigue and nefarious cults within the 270-odd pages of The Express Diaries to engage the reader, and I strongly suspect that this story would appeal to those who enjoy roleplaying, especially around the era this is set in. This is all coupled with a meticulously researched world, with footnotes provided

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to give those with a historical interest details around the real life and fictitious events of the era. On reading the acknowledgements at the end of the book we are, in fact, told that the book is structured around a campaign of “Horror on the Orient Express” from the “Call of Cthulhu” roleplaying game. Whilst this gives us a high-octane feel to the story, throwing

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us along at a relentless pace throughout, some things tend to come out of nowhere, which I suspect was due to how the game was played at the time.

Despite the couple of reservations above, what we get

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within The Express Diaries is a tale that delivers a lot of excitement and mystery to keep the reader avidly turning pages to discover just what is going to happen to our intrepid adventurers next. There is the right mix of ne’er-do-wells, magic wielding villains and

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ancient monsters lurking within the pages to transport the reader back into a world which could readily be described as Indiana Jones meets Miss Marple.

Overall, The Express Diaries is a novel which is lovingly crafted and takes us back to an era of ripping yarns full of red-blooded males and wily old dames. If you like roleplaying, Lovecraft and an old-fashioned adventure story, then I think you’ll have a lot of fun with this book.

 

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Phlambler

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