The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey; read by Natalie Naudus
Published: October 3rd, 2023
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre(s): Horror, Urban Fantasy
Length: 12 hrs and 59 mins
Julie Crews takes the nasty jobs.
If something eldritch is trying to lay eggs under your skin to prepare the way for the end of the world, she’ll flay you open, jam her arms up to the elbows into your chest cavity, carve the fucker out, sew you up and send you on your way, only mildly traumatized.
Whatever it takes to get by in New York City, after all. That and support her cocaine habit.
The Dead Take the A Train is not for the faint of heart. It’s gory and gruesome in new and inventive ways that I found invigorating as long as I wasn’t eating at the time. The book is a collaboration between Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. I’ve read (and generally enjoyed) a few of Kadrey’s books but never picked up anything by Khaw.
All I really know about Khaw is that their books tend to involve cannibals and/or body horror. It’s easy to assume that the more horrifying aspects of this book are Khaw’s contribution, but either way, this collaboration sings.
As the book opens, Julie is doing her best to make ends meet with rough and unpleasant jobs, but she keeps getting stiffed, so she reluctantly agrees to take a job from her ex, Tyler. He may have dropped her when his corporate career took off, but he still pays her for dirty little errands he can’t be bothered to do himself.
Problem is, this time the job he sends her way is much more dangerous than implied and things nearly go off the rails. When Julie calls him on his laziness and general incompetence in front of his co-workers, he gets revenge on her in a way that unleashes an unspeakable horror into the world.
Further complicating matters is the arrival of Julie’s old friend Sarah on her doorstep. Sarah claims it’s just an unplanned visit, but it soon becomes clear she’s on the run from her husband. When he follows her to the city and tracks them down, the consequences are catastrophic.
It doesn’t help that Sarah isn’t just an old friend – in Julie’s mind, she’s also the one that got away. It isn’t long before both women are struggling not to admit their true feelings for each other. Complications both personal and cosmic tie together into a climax that is simultaneously inevitable and distressing.
Kadrey and Khaw manage to set up a fascinating and bizarre world peopled with compelling and flawed characters. The book tells a complete episodic story but also sets up a number of future storylines that seem ripe for exploration in future installments. The authors also introduce an ensemble of characters with fascinating glimpses of their backstories and complex motivations.
The audiobook, narrated by Natalie Naudus, is an excellent production, and Naudus is well-suited to the material. I’ve listened to a few books narrated by her, and I’ve enjoyed every one so far. She has the perfect voice for hard-edged young women.
I loved this book, and look forward to reading more by both Kadrey and Khaw. It’s long past time I read more of Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, after all, and I have several Khaw books waiting for me on my Kindle.
LOVED IT – This is one of the best books I’ve read recently. I enjoyed every minute of it, and would highly recommend it to even the pickiest of readers. This book will more than likely end up on my best-of list at the end of the year.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Original cover illustration by James Jirat Patradon.