Volume 29, No. 3, Fall 2013
Murder in Transit Supplement:
PDF Supplement: Download a continuation of Jim Doherty’s articles, Just the Facts: Cents-Less Killing and Cops in Training—the Decalogue.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Wicked Wheels by Margot Kinberg
- Dame Agatha: Mystery and Murder on Trains by Reba White Williams
- A Well-Traveled Writer by Arthur Vidro
- Two Edwardian Heroines Face Murder on a Train by Nina Cooper
- Cops in Training—the Decalogue by Jim Doherty
- On Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey by Sarah Weinman
- Putting Murder on the Right Track by Sandra Balzo
- Cremains on a Plane by Jenna Bennett/Jennie Bentley
- From a View to a Museum by Raymond Benson
- A Box Truck Full of Mystery by Don Bruns
- The Mekong Murders by Diana R. Chambers
- Murder Aboard the Silver Lady by Janet Dawson
- All Aboard The Plague Ship! by Leonard Goldberg
- A Basket of Trouble on Horseback by Beth Groundwater
- Amish Snowbirds Take the Bus by Karen Harper
- A Motor Home and Bronson by L.C. Hayden
- Following in the Tracks of the Orient Express by Maria Hudgins
- It’s About the Journey by Tammy Kaehler
- Who Killed the Early Electric Car? by D.E. Johnson
- Canoes and Canoodling by M. E. Kemp
- The Wheels on the Bus by Debra Purdy Kong
- Travels with Dogs by Barbara Levenson
- Sink or Swim by Toni Lo Tempio
- Moving Targets by Edward Marston
- The Day I Met Jack Colby by Amy Myers
- What Is It About a Choo-Choo Train? by Radine Trees Nehring
- Road Tripping Along Route 66 by Kris Neri
- The Miami River by Neil Plakcy
- Point of View by David and Mary Putnam
- A Road Trip from Baker Street by Michael Robertson
- Out of the Ashes by Sheldon Russell
- Class Reunion Cruise—Serving Murder by June Shaw
- Last Exit to Murder by Laurie Stevens
- Setting Sail for Murder by Marcia Talley
- Plenty of Choice Up Here by Marsali Taylor
- Sherlock, Murder, and the North London Line by E.J. Wagner
- Itinerary for Mystery by C.L. Woodhams
- Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Lesa Holstine, L.J. Roberts, and Gay Toltl Kinman
- Children’s Hour: Murder in Transit by Gay Toltl Kinman
- In Short: The Murder Transit System by Marv Lachman
- Crime Seen: Mystery in Motion by Kate Derie
- Just the Facts: Cents-Less Killing by Jim Doherty
- From the Editor’s Desk by Janet Rudolph
Dorothy B. Hughes’ best known novels include In A Lonely Place, one of the best depictions of post-WWII decay in print; Ride the Pink Horse, a revenge tale with genuine feeling and surprise, and The Expendable Man, her last full-length work of fiction, on racial injustice that is stunningly contemporary. The real revelation in Hughes’ body of work, when I read almost all of it for an essay I wrote in 2012, turned out to be Dread Journey (1945), which has barely been written about since its initial publication.
Hughes makes use of a time-worn but still dependable premise of trapping all of the novel’s characters on a cross-country train from Los Angeles to New York. Inevitably, she destines one of them for death far short of the train’s final destination. As it so happens, almost all of the characters have some tie to Hollywood, from the big star about to fall (Kitten Agnew), the producer/director/onetime lover yearning to destroy her (Vivien Spender), the star’s malleable, about-to-ripen replacement (Gratia Shawn), a playboy on the periphery (Leslie Augustin), and the desperate failed screenwriter skulking back home to mama (Sidney Pringle).
Two others, however, do not: the porter, James Cobbett, who sees everything but is left alone and underestimated because of class (service) and race (black), and is something of a prototype for Hugh Denismore in The Expendable Man; and and Hank Cavanaugh, the once-hotshot reporter who has descended into alcoholism after seeing too much at the front.
The book’s title is accurate; every sentence is suffused with dread, which makes the book difficult to put down, from the first moment Kitten utters the words “I’m afraid” till its inevitable finish. But Hughes also offers one of the most astute and sly portraits of how Hollywood worked then, and, in subconscious ways, still works now: the insecure, powerful men lusting for greater power, the innocents thrust into situations beyond their control, and the terrible contracts besting everybody.
Viv Spender may be Hughes’ most overt villain since the mirror-appearance twin psychopaths in The So Blue Marble, a man with an indomitable God complex, ready to crush anyone in his way. But even his motivations are understandable and believable, as are those of Spender’s long-suffering female secretary named Mike, who gets the crime fiction equivalent of an 11 o’clock number—and what a star turn it proves to be.
The omniscient viewpoint Hughes adopts invites the reader into the characters’ inner sancta, and what’s left is bitter triumph that leaves a horrible taste in their collective mouth. Dread Journey is one coast-to-coast adventure you won’t soon forget.
Sarah Weinman is the editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, which includes a story by Dorothy B. Hughes.
Many of my novels feature murder on the move. Characters in my eleven Domesday Books had to travel in numbers because it was far too dangerous to go any distance alone in the late 11th century. With its thick forests and large uninhabited tracts, the terrain lent itself to ambush. It was the same in the late 16th century, where I set the Nicholas Bracewell series about an Elizabethan theater troupe. Whenever plague deaths reached a certain point, the London theaters were closed and actors were forced to go on the road. They literally became moving targets for outlaws, rival companies, gypsies, vagabonds, masterless men and wild animals.
The problem remained in Restoration England, the setting for my series about the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Even walking home alone after dark exposed you to danger. Travellers on the road for any length of time would inevitably attract the interest of highwaymen. In my Captain Rawson novels, set during the campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough in the early 18th century, peril is ever-present. Even a large army was no protection against an ambush or other ruse employed by an enemy. During a battle, the cavalry were archetypal moving targets.
But it’s in the ten novels in the Railway Detective series that the theme of murder in transit is explored most. Set in the 1850s, the books depict the enormous changes that the railway system brought in people’s lives. They were the defining phenomenon of the Victorian Age. In The Excursion Train, a huge crowd goes off to an illegal prize fight in the country. When they leave the train, the guard finds one of the passengers dead. An artist is painting a picture in The Railway Viaduct when a murdered man is hurled from the window as a train speeds past. Murder on the Brighton Express contains a host of victims. In Blood on the Line, Inspector Colbeck pursues the villains by train and then by ship as they flee to New York and someone is killed on board while the vessel is in the harbour.
Murder at sea was a theme in my Ocean Mystery series (written as Conrad Allen). A journalist in Murder on the Lusitania gets bumped off because he becomes too curious. Each of the other seven novels revolves around villainy on the high seas. Ocean voyages tend to free passengers from inhibition, making them more open to new experiences and less shackled to social convention. When they’re off guard, they’re much more vulnerable. It’s difficult to convict a murderer if the body of his victim has disappeared overboard at night and there are no witnesses.
There’s no end to the situations you can create as people travel between one place and another. Instead of being sitting ducks, victims simply become moving targets.
Edward Marston‘s latest book is Peril on the Royal Train (2013). He is the author of fifty mysteries and countless short stories, and International Guest of Honor at the 2014 Bouchercon in Long Beach.