SGT. JANUS ON THE DARK TRACK
By Jim Beard
Six years after it was officially announced, book # 3 in the Sgt. Janus series by Jim Beard is at long last here. We are happy to report that the wait was a worthwhile one.
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.