Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Train - Diane Hoh

SO, we’re back with ‘The Ho’ again, as I like to call her (but please don’t tell her that I called her that, I’m on my final warning.) My expectations for The Train are pretty high, with the awesomeness of The Accident still as fresh in my mind as a newly slaughtered corpse. Also, the cover is pretty amazing, that skeleton/hand thing does indeed appear to be promising me a one way ticket to terror.

But OMG, I guess this one has also been reprinted as a non-Point Horror book, and I must say the new cover is highly disappointing:

What's scary about that??!!

So – this story is about Hannah Deaton and her friends and a wonderful train journey of death and misery. Hannah’s hair is ‘naturally wavy and chocolate-ice-cream coloured.’ What a very strange way to describe hair. She’s dating a guy called Mack, who is described as ‘rugged,’ even though he’s only about seventeen. You’d had to have had a pretty hard life to be ‘rugged’ at seventeen, right? Also in her gang is Kerry (the vain one), Kerry’s boyfriend Lewis (the funny one) and Jean Marie (the one to make up the numbers.)

So, Hannah’s school class are going on a Teen Tour from Chicago to San Francisco travelling aboard a train so they can learn them some geography. It quickly transpires that Hannah is afraid of quite a few things. I made a list of her fears whilst I was reading, they are: trains, tunnels, confines spaces and, ummm, death. Okay, I’ll give her death. But trains? Seriously? I have NEVER heard of that phobia before. And she mentions her fear like once at the very beginning, and then it is completely forgotten about. Tut tut, minus 5 points for the poor continuity.

Also in her class are a girl Lolly Slocum and these guys called Eugene and Dale or something. These dudes are the losers of the school. Euegene and Dale spend the whole book darting their eyes suspiciously and making inappropriate comments but as they turn out to be massive red herrings I’m going to cull them from my recap. Sorry guys, that’s show business. More on Lolly later.

We open as they board the train. Kerry’s carry on bag is put into the baggage car because stupid Lewis screws up the one little job he was asked to do. Kerry storms off to get her bag – and finds a coffin in the baggage car. Kerry decides that her and Hannah have to go back again – and this time look inside the coffin to check there aren’t any icky corpses on the train with them. Hey guys, you know what’s worse than having a dead person on your train? Breaking into said dead person's coffin and ogling their corpse is what.

They realise that the coffin belongs to a guy they knew. His name was Frog and he died in a horrible fiery car accident about a week ago – since he was originally from San Francisco his body is being shipped back. Frog was Lolly’s boyfriend and Eugene and Dale’s friend. Ergo, Frog was also a loser and everyone hated him. Maybe he would have been more popular if he was a pirate frog:

The gang meet in the train’s Diner and all of Hannah’s friends have a story about a time they treated Frog badly, although frankly some of the stories are stronger than others. All except Hannah, who refuses to talk about it. It’s pretty obvious that Hannah’s story of her Frog abuse is going to be the most brutal and important one - oh the suspense.

Suddenly – all the lights in the diner go out. When the teacher (Ms Quick) flicks them back on again, Lolly has some kind of noose thing around her neck that’s choking her. Mack jumps to her rescue and unties the noose. A doctor arrives and plans are made for Lolly to go back home the following day instead of continuing on with the trip. I’m kind of surprised that the attempted murder of one of the students wasn’t enough to get everyone sent home, but hey I guess I’m just weird about stuff like deranged murderers being on the loose in massively confined spaces. Good thing I’m not a teacher. Anyway, we’re promised that a detective will be joining the train to investigate.

Wondering what Lolly looks like? Well, “unlike, Frog, Lolly wasn’t really unattractive’” and was occasionally “almost pretty.” Wow, such glowing praise, I hope someday I get described as being almost pretty. The Ho continues – “”she was a big girl, but it seemed to Hannah that at least she made an effort to look her best, wearing neat, colourful clothes.” Because EWWWW gross she’s a fatty, but at least she isn’t a slob. Nice work, Point Horror – bustin' stereotypes since 1992.

Everyone is told not to split up and to always stay in a group, so of course Hannah and Kerry immediately split up. Hannah finds herself alone in a train corridor being grabbed and gagged from behind by a stranger. I love it when that happens. The mystery attacker steers Hannah into the baggage room and knocks her out. Oh yeah and when she wakes up she’s in a coffin. It’s immediately obvious that she’s in the damn coffin the second she wakes up and feels wood all around her, but for some reason it takes Hannah about 10 pages to figure this out, I’ll spare you the loooong description of what the inside of a coffin feels like as Hannah’s puny mind grapples with figuring out where she could possibly be. But Christ, she even manages to get this far: “Hannah realized she was lying in a long, narrow, wooden box with an unyielding wooden roof” without ALSO realising that a ‘long wooden box’ commonly goes by the name ‘coffin.’ OK, I’ll move on from this now, although an angry little piece of me will be trapped in that long wooden box with Hannah forevermore.

Hannah is saved from long wooden box hell by her friends, with Ms. Quick and the conductor in tow. Hannah realizes that the long wooden box she was in was Frog’s, meaning what the hell has happened to Frog’s corpse. (please be zombies, please be zombies, please be zombies)

Frog burned to death in his car accident – creating the possibility that it was some other dope’s charred remains in the car, and Frog may not be dead after all. Hannah thinks this is a possibility, because “no one would have checked the identity of the driver. The police would have assumed that, of course, it was Frog driving the car.” Ummmmm, I’m not 100% sure that that’s how these things work. Hannah reckons that Frog faked his death and now he’s out to punish the gang for the way that they mis-treated him. Yeah, and for some insane reason Hannah decides not to go home but to stay on the trip.

The train stops in Denver, and Hannah’s friends go for coffee whilst Hannah visits a doctor. Mack goes missing in Denver. And then he reappears. He ran off by himself because he thought he saw Frog. This adds weight to Hannah’s theory that Frog faked his death so he could get him some consequence free revenge. The only flaw in her theory – why would he attack Lolly, his girlfriend? Jean Marie has an answer – she recently over heard the couple having a nasty argument about Frog going somewhere and Lolly trying to stop him. Hannah knows about this fight – it’s linked in to whatever it was that she did to hurt Frog, although we still don’t find out what that was.

Detective Tesch arrives. Hannah wittily renames him ‘Detective Brown’ because umm, he wears a lot of brown. Quick, someone get this girl a MENSA membership. He doesn’t really do anything, you probably won’t be hearing much about him from me again.

Hannah finds Frog’s dead burned body in Kerry’s bunk bed. Oh, I guess that pretty much de-bunks her theory. I’m still holding out for a zombie. Hannah runs out and tells the others about her discovery, but of COURSE the corpse has vanished by the time they get there to have a look, and they’re all “Hannah babes, you just had a bad dream.”

Ummm, but did nobody else notice that Frog really isn’t in his coffin if Hannah was in there? I mean, I hate to agree with Hannah here but surely his body must be SOMEWHERE? Sadly, Hannah doesn’t think of this argument to use. Man, if it was me in this situation I would just be dealing with it all over the place. Hannah reckons that maybe Frog was just PRETENDING to be dead to scare her and oh my God we are back to square one. Ms. Quick just keeps feeding Hannah aspirin to try to calm her down. I totally didn’t realise that aspirin worked like that, that’s why I love Point Horror, it provides such as vast library of important medical information.

The gang go to the cinema to watch “the latest Schwarzenegger” and a mystery ice pick thrower gets Lewis in the collarbone during the credits. Whoever this attacker is, they suck at making successful kills. Nobody really makes that big a deal about the ice pick thing, the policeman is all kind of ‘meh’ and Lewis just gets bandaged up.

Hannah decides that her and the gang need to open the coffin to see if Frog is in there. Jeez, maybe it’s just me but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened in one of the first chapters? Reading this book makes me feel like I’m trapped in an Escher drawing.

On the way to the baggage room, Lewis trips into something and ‘utters a mild oath.’ Yeah, this is the same guy who was just stabbed through the collarbone with an ice pick five minutes ago. I wonder what the mild oath was? “oh, boobs”? Anyway, Frog IS in the coffin now, but in the event only Hannah sees him. And she only knows it definitely was him because catches a glimpse of his tattoo. This tattoo sounds amazing, I’m thinking of stealing it for myself: “a rat with wings and bared fangs.” Yeeeeeeaahhh baby.

Anyway, so now we have established once and for all that someone OTHER than Frog is after Hannah and the gang. At least I truly hope with all my heart that this is the case. If there is one more body in the coffin, body out the coffin twist I’m just going to…well, I’ll just get on with my life I s’pose.

This train sounds amazing. It has a diner, a great big shower room, separate bedrooms, a rec room with a pool table and an observation lounge. So, they head to the observation lounge so they can all go to sleep together and so they won’t be in their rooms where the ‘killer’ could find them. I say ‘killer’, it seems a bit kind to describe him/her as a killer, but ‘blundering, incompetent would be-murderer’ would take too long to type. They all survive the night, and the girls head to the shower room to freshen up. Jean Marie goes missing from the shower.

The Detective thinks that Jean Marie is just playing a ‘hilarious’ joke, demonstrating how you can slide away the shower tiles and climb through the train ducts. Umm, first of all, I don’t know what a train duct is and second of all, is this detective actually retarded?

Jean Marie dies, the killer throws her off the train roof. Well done killer, you’re really finding your feet and earning your reputation now, I’m proud of you.

Hannah goes back to her compartment alone and finds Lolly Slocum chilling inside, dressed in one of Frog’s old outfits. This is not looking good. Lolly reveals that she never really left the train, she’s been hiding on it the whole time and she’s been the one attacking everyone and she even put the noose around her neck herself. Yeah, she explains that she could do it because she’s good at knots, having worked on a boat one summer. All of this unnecessary exposition gives me the feeling that The Ho maybe has a minimum word count that she’s desperately trying to reach. Oh, and the corpse in the bed/coffin was also Lolly, in special effects make up. Good old special effects make up.

So, why is Lolly doing all this? Because Frog’s dead and now she’s lonely and Hannah and all her friends were mean to him. Hannah manages to make a run for it and escape Lolly. When Hannah returns with backup, Lolly is gone, and she’s left what looks like a suicide note – they assume she jumped out the window of the moving train and into the canyon. Yeah, it’s probably just safer to assume that, the police do love to assume stuff. Hannah points out that Lolly could conceivably have faked the whole suicide thing, considering she’s already faked a near-death anyway and seeing how she’s a psychopath and all. Once again I’m forced to side with Hannah as all her friends just act kind of embarrassed that Hannah wouldn’t take the word of a deranged and revenge hungry murderer, like ‘oh you’re being so irrational.’

The train reaches San Francisco and the gang go out to visit a house on a cliff. Hannah wanders off by herself and finds a roped off danger area. She leans over the wall. Guess who pops up? Yup, Lolly Slocum. Jeez, she’s probably the LAST person Hannah wants to see right now. Especially because Lolly has a knife pressed to Hannah’s ear.

Except it’s not a knife, it’s a little tin canister that holds Frog’s ashes – Lolly’s plan is to scatter his ashes and murder Hannah at the same time, how efficient. Turns out Frog was never in the coffin at all, his parents didn’t really care about him so Lolly just had him cremated and then ordered the empty coffin to be sent to his parents in San Francisco just to annoy them. This girl has waaaay too much time on her hands.

OK, remember when Jean Marie said she had witnessed a big old fight between Lolly and Frog? Turns out that Lolly does blame Hannah for that fight and she REALLY wants to kill Hannah. They have a tussle blah blah blah and Hannah manages to pull a lump of cement off the crumbly old wall and knock Lolly over the edge into the sea. Ha! That'll teach her for not conforming and being fat.

Hannah’s friends rush up having witnessed the tussle. And we FINALLY get to find out what it is that Hannah did to Frog that she was so ashamed about. Hannah’s dad hired Frog to work on their garden in the run up to a massive party Hannah was having. Feeling kind of guilty that he was so unpopular, she invited Frog along. Frog was delighted, and whether or not to go to the party was what Lolly and Frog had their big fight about, with Frog desperate to go along and Lolly less keen. Hannah instantly regretted the invite and spent a couple of days worrying about how embarrassing it would be to have him there. So when he and Lolly arrived she slipped out the house and lied to them, saying she was ill and the party was just about to be cancelled. Frog took it sweetly but he was gutted and ran off into his car, sped off and…crashed it and died.

Okay, I guess that was a pretty shitty thing that Hannah did. I was worried it was going to be something really lame, like she sneezed on him and gave him a cold or something.

So I guess Hannah forgives herself, and decides to stay in San Francisco for the rest of the trip and Kerry makes a lame little joke about going shopping. The ending of this book is far less awesome than The Accident. In fact the whole thing doesn't really come close to The Accident. Maybe it's not fair to compre, but I had such high hopes for The Ho.

I guess the moral of the story is – tattoos of rats with wings are fucking incredible. Also, that the inclusion of a zombie would have immensely improved it.

Amazon reviewers– over to you:

“I've caught the train from Chicago to San Francisco and it doesn't stop for a half a day in Denver either, it stops at places to refuel yes but not a whole morning and there's no way it would delay hundreds of passengers to wait for one teenager to reappear or not. Also why they would expect the corpse of Frog to be in the very same coffin they rescued Hannah from seems to defy logic. If you can overlook these things and accept the work as pure fiction then this is a very enjoyable read.”

Hmmm, I HAD enjoyed reading this book, but then I found out that the train route was used was completely illogical and incorrect and now my enjoyment has been retro-actively destroyed, thanks a BUNCH Amazon guy. Nothing makes me madder than lies about trains.

Aww, this one is a review by a kid:

“This is a great book but you have to be ready for it. i went into it thinking that it would somr murder mystery (one of my favorite types of books) but i was totally suprised. it is a very scary, sad and emotional book. Hannah, the main character, is a very distressed and scared girl because trains scare her a lot, especially when going across country”

That’s really sweet, I love that they found this book to be sad and emotional. Kids are so weird aren’t they? With their ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions.’

So next week, I think I’m going to be doing The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick, unless something goes wrong and it doesn’t arrive in time. I have a good feeling about The Mall though, I don’t think I’ve ever read it before and the Amazon reviews are pretty gushing. And if this blog has taught me anything it's that Amazon reviewers are frighteningly accurate.


Fear Street said...

All hail pirate frog!

I can't wait for "The Mall"...

Anonymous said...

It seems like this was amazingly stupid, and therefore great. The illogical serial killings are the best.

They reprinted it as non-PH, though? I didn't even know they could do that. Freaky.

Devika said...

Diane Hoh has a few books that were re-released as non-Point Horror including...THE ACCIDENT! They still kept the hand coming out of the water on the cover, but there's no row boat.

Vampire said...

Wait, a "rat with wings and bared fangs?"
Isn't that a bat?

Sati said...

Clearly the first Amazon reviewer was comedian Jon Richardson.

I think this book really brings home that we're not in England any more, Toto. Not the whole Denver / Salt Lake / San Francisco thing, but Jean Marie. If someone pushed her off an English train she might sprain an ankle. Well, aside from the electrocution thing.