Death Rides The Zephyr by Janet Dawson

dawson_deathDecember 1952. Jill McLeod is a Zephyrette, a stewardess on the California Zephyr (CZ), which is making its Christmas run from California to Colorado. Jill hopes for a quiet run until a rock slide forces the train to a standstill, stranding passengers on board with a thief and a killer. As a Zephyrette, Jill has direct access to every passenger aboard, making her the most likely candidate to find the missing loot and discover the crooks’ identities.

Dawson’s extensive research into train life is translated into a moment-by-moment account of life on the CZ, and we are privileged to see every aspect of being a Zephyrette, from dealing with rude customers to the ticket colors used when scheduling luncheon and the dinner hour. The well-detailed nature of the piece does affect the pacing, which at times feels slow, and dampens the suspense of the actual murder, which comes much later than anticipated.

The highlight of the novel is the Vista-Dome experience as we can only imagine it, a pleasure dome with unobstructed views of the Sierra Nevadas, Great Basin, and the Colorado Rockies. Train lovers will love this glimpse of a life spent riding the rails on this unique streamliner that originally operated from its inauguration on March 19, 1949 to its final westbound run from Chicago to Oakland on March 22, 1970.

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.


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