The adventure begins with Sgt. Janus and his companion, Mrs.
Valerie Havelock-Mayer, on a train for home having just attended a conference
for occult investigators. Aboard the
train is a politician named Clowers and his teenage daughter Laura. When Laura
unexpectedly takes sick, Janus suspects she has been possessed by the ghost of
another young woman whose own life ended tragically on that very train.
As his previous two books, Beard narrates the story from the
first person accounts of the supporting players, never Sgt. Janus himself. Thus
in the first half of the tale, Valerie’s diary entries share that task along
with letters and notations by the other passengers including those written by
the assistant conductor, Gabriel Butters. We soon learn that Butters has knowledge
of an old African magic referred to as “the Dark Track.” Is the train itself
haunted by the specter of a notorious outlaw and what was his connection to the
ghost now controlling Laura?
To solve that mystery, Janus, Valerie and Butters decide to
leave the train at a country station and proceed along the “Dark Track” on
foot. This brings us to the book’s second half where becomes a whole lot more
complex. The trio find themselves in what can only be described as an alternate
timeline…as other people. If that wasn’t confusing enough, they are in Jordon,
a small town dominated by the ironworks factory. It is the hometown of the dead
girl; only here she is still among the living and the mystery of her actions
and their repercussions to the events on the train only deepens.
Beard’s strength as a writer is his use of language to
define his characters. It allows us an intimate glimpse as to their purposes
and motivations. Sadly it is also his weakness as this attention to each
individual flower fogs our view of the entire garden. Meaning quite simply that
at the book’s conclusion neither the principle characters nor we readers are
exactly sure what the actual resolution was. Much like H.P. Lovecraft, Beard is
truly skilled at creating atmosphere and mood, which works beautifully in ghost
stories but we would have appreciated a more defined conclusion. It is our one
and only critique.
“Sgt. Janus on the Dark Track” is unique reading experience one the reader will not soon forget.