Victorian Tales: Terror on the Train


Staplehurst, England, 1865. A piece of railway track over the River Beult at Staplehurst needs replacing. Once the express train has passed, the old track is taken up and work begins. Then the gang stops for tea; they have plenty of time to put it back before the next train. One of the gang, young Tommy Bucket, is worried about another train coming before the track’s re-laid. The foreman laughs and shows him the timetable. No train is scheduled to appear, he says, confidently.

On Folkestone station, the boat train is preparing to leave for London. On board is famous author Charles Dickens, with his friend Ellen Ternan, her mother and a maid, Matilda. Matilda is frightened by the hissing steam. Dickens, who travels a lot, reassures her that it’s perfectly safe. He is wrong.

Tommy’s anxiety grows. He goes up the line with a red flag and, to his horror, sees a train approaching: a train the foreman promised him wouldn’t be there. He tries to attract the engine driver’s attention …

The Staplehurst railway accident is famous because of Charles Dickens’s involvement. He worked tirelessly to help those who were trapped to get out and to care for the wounded. It is a well-documented incident. Deary has made a story out of it by introducing several fictional characters who have their own take on the disaster.

I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work for me, mainly because Dickens’s role has been altered. For example, he didn’t send Tommy or anyone else into the teetering carriage to retrieve the next episode of Our Mutual Friend but went in himself to get his brandy flask to offer to the wounded.

Helen Flook’s illustrations are suitably evocative and complement the story nicely. Children of 7 plus should enjoy it.

Elizabeth Hawksley

I liked how Terry Deary kept switching characters and how he used someone famous in the book, Dickens. I actually think it was perfect; it has chaos, death and trains. However, I would have liked more detail, such as describing how the train smashed and what happened after, how people felt and what exactly happened.  The title tells you what will happen in the book which can be good or bad, but in this book it is okay but I think it should be called something like Train Crash, which is short and snappy. Terror on the Train gives away that there will be terror.

I think the age for reading this book is 7-10.  I would like to read another one of his books.

Louis McNulty, age 9

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(UK) £4.99

(UK) 9781408154090