Night-Train (1984) by Thomas F. Monteleone

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The UK cover seems to be a bad copy of the original.

New York subways are invaded by all manner of transdimensional creatures from shiny fog to pale dwarves to carnivorous starfish in Night-Train, a 1984 urban horror novel from Thomas F. Monteleone of Borderlands anthology fame.

It begins enticingly enough with a subway train that disappeared in mysterious circumstances one hundred years ago. Hot newscaster Lya feels there’s a story and begins to investigate, while manly cop Michael is on the trail of a subway slasher. Soon enough they’re hooking up, and together with a nerdy professor Lane they descend into the tunnels. And then it all derails somehow, with the professor throwing around star-stones to ward off evil or something.

Borrowing from everyone and everything, Monteleone completely forgets realism and throws all other ingredients into the mix. The result is a hot mess. There’s stuff from Lovecraft, with even Cthulhu getting a shout-out at one point. The far too knowledgeable professor seems to be a stock character from Derleth, while the nonsensical theories about the city are from Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness. Sure, there’s some straightforward gore, with the starfish feasting on several workers and other unfortunates, but as a whole it never comes together and never makes any goddamned sense.

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US cover by Lisa Falkenstern. Much better!

The novel isn’t helped by the paper-thin characters and the extremely cheesy eighties vibe throughout. The city, which is supposedly the main thing here, feels more like a straight-to-VHS version of itself. There are scenes where the reader might actually hear a tiny saxophone playing in the background…

Night-Train is a disappointment, and more so because it could’ve been so much better. The subway tunnels as a setting are always great, the beginning is alright, the mystery of the train is good stuff, and the serial killer angle for the most part works. But they are all solved by the middle of the novel and afterwards Monteleone gets lost in the tunnels, makes all the dumbest choices, and the novel dives head first into the deep end, never to recover. A lost opportunity.

** (2/5)