The Revenant Express has FINALLY been released but it's also the ten year anniversary of the series, and in celebration of that, Titan Books is running a blog tour! As you can tell, today is my stop on the tour, and I'll be letting you guys know my thoughts on the book! But first...I've got a little guest post from the author, George Mann, himself letting us know a little bit about his inspiration!
So over to George....
Inspiration and The Revenant Express
Ten years on from the publication of the first Newbury & Hobbes novel, The Affinity Bridge, I’ve talked a lot about the inspirations behind the series – the novels, TV shows and movies that nourished me as a child and young man, and which continue to exert influence on me now: Doctor Who, The Avengers, Sherlock Holmes, Hammer Horror and more.
All of these things and more have played a part in helping me shape the tone and character of the latest novel in the series, The Revenant Express, but with publication looming, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a handful of specific stories, and one film, in particular, that I wanted to pay homage to with this new book.
Trains have always provided a fantastic setting for writers, particularly of adventure stories and thrillers – the contained environment with a limited number of passengers, from which no one can leave until the next stop, is in many ways akin to the isolated country estate in which people have been snowed in, or the bank being held hostage by armed robbers.
Yet old fashioned steam trains are also redolent of long, peaceful journeys through leafy countryside, of a different pace to life, a symbol of a bygone age. It’s this dichotomy that makes them so perfect as settings for nefarious goings-on.
When I think of train journeys I think of the opening episode of the BBC’s adaptation of The Box of Delights, in which Kay Harker meets sinister clergymen in his carriage; of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple witnessing a woman being throttled through the window of an adjacent train; of the horror on the face of Denholm Elliott in the screen version of Charles Dickens’s The Signalman, or the stranded passengers in J. Jefferson Farjeon’s classic Christmas novel, Mystery in White. That’s not to mention numerous rooftop battles by James Bond (in his various guises), which never fail to thrill, even after watching them time and time again.
There are dozens more, of course, not least Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express, which is surely one of the most well known crime stories in the world, and the template for all ‘murder on a sleeper train’ stories that would follow.
The one that I find few people are aware of, though, is Horror Express, a Spanish-British horror movie from 1972, directed by Eugenio Martin and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas. It’s akin to the Hammer or Amicus movies of the era, and details a campaign of murderous terror aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. It’s hammy, and over-the-top, and low budget... but it’s one of my favourite films, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, I’m not alone, as John Connolly, the best-selling crime writer, has recently published a monograph in support of the film, and I have a copy waiting near the top of my reading pile. I can’t wait to see what insights he reveals.
It’s in the spirit of these stories, then, that I offer up The Revenant Express, a story that is both very much a Newbury & Hobbes tale, continuing the adventures of the intrepid duo, and a tribute to and addition to a sub genre that has had a huge impact on my reading and viewing over the years.
Having read the book, I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and I can see where certain inspirations came in! Which I'll explore more in my review....
The Revenant Express
Buy or borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher!
Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury's assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica's sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.
I have waited YEARS for this book, as it got pushed back and pushed back and I kind of can't believe it's finally here?! I mean the way the previous book ended it's kind of cruel to make us wait this long! Although it has to be said...the anticipation was real going in to this.
I will admit that the opening had me a little bit confused until I remembered and realised that we're seeing a glimpse of something that happened a year or less before the events of the previous books...and I was curious as to how it was going to relate to what goes on in the main plot of this one.
As Newbury is going on this particular adventure with Amelia, we obviously get her point of view, and get to see a lot more of her! I was intrigued to get to know her properly, and she's the kind of person that doesn't like to see the bad in people and she finds it hard to be suspicious of people despite Newbury's warnings. She did annoy me a little when she was standing there having a debate with Newbury about getting rid of a body when they're clearly being set up....but I had to remind myself that she's not Veronica and she's lived a very sheltered life so far, and therefore isn't used to this kind of situation. She did grow on me over the course of the book, despite the odd moment when I wanted to shout at her, but she has a lot of potential for character growth!
As is usual with the storytelling for these books we get a couple of other POV's including the POV's of the "bad guys", if that's what you want to call them. Clarence's POV had me going from "yaaaaay we're journeying from Paris to St.Petersburg and we're going to get to see more of the steampunk world" to "ew gross, what the hell!?". It also gave me huge doses of foreboding. I particularly enjoyed his POV because the first chapter of it twisted from being normal, to an impending sense of something not quite right....to a horrifying reveal. The poor guy brings a huge dose of foreboding and dread every time he pops up, and I actually really felt for him. Although he certainly gives us an interesting look at the Revenant plague and what happens with it. He had the air of a ticking time bomb, as we waited for it to explode and add to the chaos. We also had the shadowy POV of the Keeper which made for....disturbing reading, when he graced us with his presence.
If you're worried about the lack of Veronica, never fear, we do get her POV so she's not completely absent from the narrative. Although her POV is from the previous year and we have the mystery of that case running alongside the quest to get to St.Petersburg. I did like how the plot thread with Veronica ties in and linked with what was going on aboard the train with the Revenants. Her POV is like the usual mystery crossed with a particular episode of Primeval that it had me in mind of...you know, the one with the plant men. Then the narrative on the train is kind of like Murder on the Orient Express meets zombie apocalypse.
Alongside our favourites, we have a couple of new faces to spice things up, could have done without Petunia though. She got on my last nerve from the beginning with her overbearing attitude and how nosy she was.
As for the plot, it starts off at a leisurely pace as we get in to things and start off on the journey but it's not long before things get started and by that I mean...murder. Now, while I did enjoy this, the train obviously had a claustrophobic feel to it, with no escape and impending danger, while Veronica's plot line gave us the mystery elements that we're used to with this series....it did have the feel of a novella to it.
This one isn't the longest, if you take out the flashbacks that allow Veronica to have a presence and shows us her feelings more, it'd be very short indeed. Novella length, in fact. While I did enjoy Veronica's parts, I feel like it was just there to pad out this book a little to take it from novella to actual instalment, and I'm not entirely convinced it was necessary either. But like I said, I did enjoy this anyway, the pace picks up as we switch from pov to pov and action to action. It was nice to see Maurice battling evil and taking names, he might not be back to his usual self but from what I remember of him in the previous book...he was certainly having fun. While it did seem like a bit of a simple solution I am glad the whole thing with that book and the ritual has been resolved, because hopefully he'll get back to normal!
Although I am a bit wary of Amelia perhaps taking Veronica's place. She did come across that way in this book, and there was a moment with she and Newbury and a comment Amelia made in her narrative that had me like "Hell no", but I am looking forward to seeing how this experience will change Amelia and I'm hoping she'll become stronger.
I loved getting to see Faberge and what he was like in this version of the world....I'm also curious as to what Newbury handed over to him?! I am a bit sad we didn't get to spend more time in St.Petersburg and see it properly...and see more of it because I loved what we did see! It was very different to London, obviously, and I was enchanted with it!
Everything comes to a splendid ending, although Newbury was about to confess and I damn near screamed when they got interrupted! I have been left very intrigued, however, as we have an outright war happening. I think we all knew this was coming, and our characters would reach their breaking point eventually! While I'm not sure if there is another book in this series, this has the feeling of setting up for the grand finale of the series so I'm hoping we'll get one more book!
Thanks for checking out my blog tour stop! Head over to Always Trust In Books to check out their stop today too! And don't forget to check out the other stops this week!