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Literature / The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train

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"The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" is a novella in the Diogenes Club series by Kim Newman. The bulk of the story is set in the 1950s, with a frame story set in the late 1970s. It serves as a series finale for the subseries set in the 1970s and featuring Richard Jeperson, Vanessa, and Fred Regent.

In the frame story, Richard and Fred are rushing to answer an urgent but uninformative summons from Vanessa when a series of mishaps leave them stranded at a remote country railway station. While they await the next train to their destination, Richard passes the time by telling Fred the story of his first mission as an agent of the Diogenes Club.


In the 1950s, Diogenes agents Harry Cutley, Annette Amboise, Danny "Magic Fingers" Myles, and Richard Jeperson board the Scotch Streak, an express train from London to Scotland with a reputation for being haunted and a high fatality rate among its passengers. They are unprepared for what they will find, and not all of them will get off alive at the other end.

Richard will, of course, because he's telling the story.

So will one of the other passengers: a strange little girl named Vanessa.


"The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" contains examples of:

  • Blitz Evacuees: Myles was evacuated during the Blitz as a child, an unpleasant experience which the Scotch Streak haunt forces him to relive in exaggerated form.
  • Call-Forward: Alastair Garnett, the hapless government functionary Richard and Fred are saddled with at the beginning, who is said to be of the group in government who want the Diogenes replaced with something more regular and bureaucratic, first appeared in Jago as the official government liaison to IΨT, the NGO that replaced the Diogenes after that group got its way.
  • Condensation Clue: Used by Annette to both test and troll Richard on the Scotch Streak. She wrote ominous words on the mirror of his train compartment's bathroom just to see if he'd discover them.
  • Costume Porn: As is traditional for the series, Richard's eye-searingly-1970s outfit is described in loving detail. Then the Whole Episode Flashback begins, and the same care and attention is given to young Richard's eye-searingly-1950s outfit.
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  • Disability Superpower: Magic Fingers Myles was born blind, but has extremely keen hearing and the ability to intuit things about whatever he touches.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: It's been mentioned in previous stories that the one arguable flaw in Vanessa's appearance is a scar cutting through one eyebrow. This story reveals how she got it.
  • Framing Device: Richard Jeperson tells Fred Regent the story of his first major mission for the Diogenes Club, and his first meeting with Vanessa, on the eve of what turns out to be Vanessa's departure.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Richard's outfits.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: As a schoolboy Richard Jeperson was horrified by how many of his teachers fantasized about massacring their students; after a while, he realised that the fantasies were a form of stress release and that the really dangerous ones were among those who didn't.
  • Occult Detective: The members of the Diogenes Club.
  • Only One Name: Vanessa. "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train" reveals that she was a foundling child, who knew her given name but not her surname or anything about her family; in the same story, she goes looking for her past, and doesn't find it, but settles the surname question by falling in love and getting married.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • Richard's "mentacles".
    • Annette Amboise has precognitive abilities.
    • "Magic Fingers" has touch-based psychometry to balance his blindness.
  • Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Dr Cutley is an academic who found his way into the supernatural world via advanced research into quantum mechanics.
  • Rummage Fail: Harry Cutley has a waking nightmare in which he empties out his pockets to find his train ticket, pulling out more stuff than his pockets should easily be able to hold, including a book he knows he lost months ago and, at one point, a long string of colored handkerchiefs.
  • Traintop Battle: At the climax, Richard has to battle the Gecko and its human revenants on the outside of the Scotch Streak to prevent from uncoupling the carriages and causing a wreck.
  • Water Wake-up: Richard — at the urging of Vanessa, who is a child at this point — wakes up Annette by dumping a jug of water on her face.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The flashback to the 1950s takes up the entire story apart from half a dozen pages at each end.
  • Year X: The flashback story begins with "It was the year 195-".
  • Youthful Freckles: Eight-year-old Vanessa.