Tuesday Terror! Tracks by Stephen Leather

Thomas the Tank Engine’s evil sock puppet…


Time to leave the classics behind for a bit and see what’s new in horror. Stephen Leather was one of the early Kindle sensations and has a devoted following. He is notorious for having admitted to using ‘sock puppet’ accounts to go on all the social networking forums to talk up his own books, apparently even impersonating another author to do so. He writes thrillers and churns them out at a phenomenal rate, along with his supernatural books and stories. And this story is currently no. 2 on the Kindle best-seller list for horror short stories. So it seems ideal for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

Tracks by Stephen Leather



The two of them gaped through the windscreen in the direction of The Tracks as a thunderous roar overwhelmed their ears and a blinding light approached at frightening speed. No, not a light, a collection of lights, red, blue and green, flickering through the trees racing towards them as the noise grew to a deafening pitch and volume. And then it was gone.

The night was plunged into darkness once again, and simultaneously a heart-rending scream of agonized terror cut through the sudden silence.

An elderly man with dementia leaves his home in the middle of the night wearing only his pyjamas. His body is found the next day, 7 miles away, smashed and mangled on the tracks of a long-disused railway line. The police are baffled, so his daughter asks for help from private investigator Jack Nightingale.

Apparently Jack Nightingale has appeared in several books and stories before this one, but this works fine as a standalone. He appears to get his cases via a mysterious Mrs Steadman who contacts him on the astral plane. He is British but in this story is working in America. The mysterious death has happened in a town in Utah, bordering the Navajo Nation territories. So it’s not a huge surprise that the supernatural occurrences come courtesy of medicine men, cursed wampum, evil spirits, etc., (though perhaps a little surprising that a Native American spirit should be impersonating a train…)

thomas the tank engine

When a second elderly man dies, Jack’s client tells him that he had been a close friend of her father, along with two other men. Unfortunately it doesn’t occur to anyone to ask the two survivors if there might be a reason for the deaths, and the super-efficient Chief of Police decides they don’t really need protection because they’re elderly and unlikely to leave their houses in the middle of the night. Uh? She clearly didn’t spot that the first two had done just that. So (after the third death) Jack sets up watch over victim 4, not to save him, you understand, just to find out what’s going on. A pity really, because if he’d asked any of his readers, I reckon we could all have told him…

The old man emptied his beer bottle in one long pull. “This is strong medicine, the strongest. A wampum to summon Otshee Monetoo, the evil spirit. The spirit of death. Take this from my house now.”

Stephen Leather - the real one...apparently...
Stephen Leather – the real one…apparently…

I’m afraid this is a bit of a pot-boiler – I’d reckon roughly zero effort went into it. The whole Native American bit reads like a Brit who knows nothing so just throws out a few clichés he’s picked up from old pulp fiction or cowboy films. The fear factor is non-existent, largely because there’s no attempt at creating atmosphere. The writing is workmanlike, though one can’t help but feel a quick read-through before pressing ‘Publish’ would have enabled him to eliminate the worst of the errors – such as describing the dress and hairstyle of a character twice, differently, in the same scene. It left me baffled as to how the medicine man’s two pigtails had turned into one ponytail – not to mention a complete change of clothing – and even more baffled as to why no-one had noticed this miraculous transformation happening! Truly spooky!

I wonder if people will still be reading this story in a hundred years’ time…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯

Overall story rating:          😐 😐

50 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Tracks by Stephen Leather

  1. So let me guess, FictionFan: You weren’t swept away by this one? Not quivering in fear? Seriously, I know what you mean about a potboiler, and this one sounds like one. Thanks for the cherry-picking…

    • Haha! I fear not! Yes, I’m afraid it didn’t feel that much work had gone into this one. Still, it’s made it to no.2… which must tell us something. Not sure what, though!

  2. This sounds wonderfully bad, I love books like this that are unashamedly poor. One wonders if the writer does it on purpose, as a sort of protest or something. The bit about the conflicting descriptions – love it! I might actually read this, you know, and have a bloody good laugh at it.

    I must say I like the way he went around ‘bigging up’ his own book under false names – good idea, that. It makes you wonder how many other writers do that… probably more than you think!

    • It just goes to prove that you apparently can please some of the people all of the time! I read the bit with the two descriptions three times trying to work out when the other guy had entered the room…

      Loads, I imagine – not to mention the glowing 5-star reviews from Mums. I came across a really dismal anthology of shorts once where half the writers had left their own five-star reviews on Goodreads. At least they used their own names though – is that better or worse? Apparently after Leather admitted to it, loads of top British writers made a public pledge that they would never do it themselves. RJ Ellory also used to post reviews of his own books on Amazon under false names – and worse, he used to post scathing reviews of competitors’ books under false names too…

      • I do find it very funny when obvious mistakes like that crop up unexpectedly. At that point, the writer has my sympathy and the book becomes what I term a ‘pity read’.

        Who knew that the literary world was such an unashamed cesspit of deceit! But then I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The bit about praising your own work under false names I can understand 9to a point) but slagging off your competitors just isn’t cricket.

        • I wouldn’t pity him too much though – apparently he makes phenomenol amounts of dosh. I guess people will read anything if it’s 99p or less!

          Oh you should read some of the Amazon forums – the things they get up to, some of these authors! If they put half as much imagination into their books as their tactics, they’d probably find their books on the bestsellers lists anyway. But Leather and Ellory seem to be the worst (or at least they’re the ones that got caught)!

  3. I haven’t read anything by Stephen Leather. I was excited at first because of the location since I lived in the Four Corners area for twenty years. Sadly, it doesn’t sound like it’s worth reading after all. Thanks for the review.

  4. On the bright side though, you win most gratuitous picture of Thomas the Tank Engine that I have seen this year! Shame you had to read a rubbish story to achieve it.

  5. *laughs* Thomas was funny, I must admit.

    Great ripio, too! I love the “Tuesday Terror” font as well. Tell me that’s new, please. I’d hate to think I haven’t noticed it all this time.

    What a wonder this chap is! He must be vicious. All those accounts… (He should hire an editor.)

    • He doesn’t look too scary, does he? I should have used the Polar Express…

      *looks embarrassed* Well, you see, it’s like this. For months I’ve assumed that’s what you all saw, because that’s what it looks like on mine. But I discovered that it would only look like that on yours in the unlikely event you had downloaded that particular font to your computer! So now it’s an image rather than a font… I’m guessing none of you see the special fonts for Transwarp Tuesday or the GAN Quest either… *shuffles off to buy Computing for Dummies*

      Yes, you might have gathered he’s not one of my heroes. His tactics and the way he churns junk out puts me right off… but apparently he makes huge amounts of dosh, so I guess he wins.

      • Have you ever watched one of those?

        *laughing lots* I’ll go check…a minute please… No, you’re right…we do not! I’m sorta relieved though. Imagine if it had been there all that time. What would that say about me? Just make them images. That should do the trick. Get me one too, please!

        Does he really? I’m surprised. What’s dosh anyway?

        • No, I’m far too young for Thomas.

          *laughing* I did wonder why no-one ever commented on them. I was so sure my C-W-W would notice! But I hid my hurt well, don’t you think? *bangs head on Professor’s desk*

          Money – don’t Americans say dosh, then? Yes, he makes oodles of the stuff apparently…

  6. Don’t think I’ll be reading this one, but you might like to know that the BBC has found a copy of Audry’s “Desert Island Discs”, which might be more to your taste.

  7. Thanks for making me laugh, I haven’t read any of Stephen Leather’s work but am aware of him. He was dominating the kindle discussion boards for a while when I first got my kindle and a lot of people were getting hacked off with him. Hmmm, NOT one to add to my TBR list methinks! 🙂

    • Yes, he became very unpopular around Amazon for a while there. And yet, he still sells loads of books – odd! Haha! No I wouldn’t be recommending this one for your list… 🙂

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