Sometimes, horror is the perfect genre for exploring universal themes such as loss, isolation, or grief.
Sometimes, horror is the perfect genre for exploring how humans react to adversity, loneliness, temptation or, naturally, fear.
And sometimes, horror is the perfect genre to take a group of people, strand them on a train in the dark frontier, and unleash a siege of bloodthirsty creatures upon them.
Robert McCammon does a little of all of the above in Last Train from Perdition, the second book in his novel-in-installments, I Travel by Night.
Trevor Lawson, turned into a vampire against his will after being wounded in the Civil War, is searching for LaRouge, the vampire that turned him. Lawson has heard rumors that that consuming her ichor will turn him back into a human, and he is desperate to try—even though regaining his humanity may cost him his life.
While searching for LaRouge, Lawson and his partner, Ann Kingston (who has her own compelling reasons for hunting LaRouge), get involved in a rescue attempt funded by a rich man who wants his son extricated from a gang of outlaws. Unbeknownst to them all, Lawson and Kingston are being watched, and a night-time train ride through the dark heart of the frontier presents the perfect opportunity for LaRouge to capture her dogged pursuers.
McCammon, clearly having a ball writing these pulp Western adventures, fills the train with conflicting agendas, including outlaws who only want escape, a mysterious man of the cloth, and a dying woman. Then he literally drops a ton of rocks on the tracks, stranding them with only their wits, their guns, and a cache of silver bullets to protect them. The last half of the book is pure, bruising action.
McCammon continues to modify traditional vampire elements, introducing some vicious winged creatures to the mix during the frantic train attack. His depiction of the impact silver bullets have on these creatures is amazing, something I hope we get to see realized on the big screen one day. We also see that Lawson’s confrontation with the creatures is but a small corner of an ongoing war between dark and light—a war in which Lawson is caught squarely in the middle.
Through Lawson, McCammon shows us the the isolation and temptation felt by a man cursed with something he never asked for. It’s a constant struggle for Lawson to keep his inherent goodness from being smothered by his powerful vampiric instincts—a struggle that’s only going to get harder with time. That struggle, even more than the brewing war, is what makes the Lawson books so compelling.