Tuesday, June 23, 2020

High Red for Dead (aka Murder on the Line)

Very little is known about author William L. Rohde (1918-2000). Born in Dallas, the author wrote a handful of early Nick Carter: Killmaster installments as well as crime-fiction novels like Help Wanted for Murder (1950), Uneasy Lies the Head (1957) and V.I.P. (1957). He also wrote a number of western short stories as well as one full-length paperback, The Gun-Crasher (1957). My first experience with him is his 1951 novel High Red for Dead published by Fawcett Gold Medal. It was re-printed by Fawcett in 1957 as Murder on the Line with new cover art.

The book introduces readers to Daniels, a detective for the A&N Railroad. His base of operations is the main rail station that runs through the New England lakeside community of Vicksboro. Daniels is a former war veteran and operates a real-estate practice on the side. Due to the railroad's declining profits, the owners have petitioned Washington DC to restructure the shaky company. Daniels' theory is that the owners want to sell off fast and capitalize on obtaining a large one-time sum of millions instead of the dwindling thousands they receive yearly in profit and stock dividends. When one of the railroads lobbyists is found murdered on an incoming train, it's Daniels job to locate the killer and motive.

The book has a robust cast of characters that drained my pen dry when drawing the org-chart. It's a labor to navigate the twists and turns of the railroad industry, technical wire communications and the obligatory gamblers and love interests that saturate the narrative. The author's voice is clearly an experienced train aficionado, evident from his 1940s writings in the old Railroad magazines. High Red for Dead, and its procedural investigation, would have worked better as a western with enough gruff characters, land-barons, gamblers and cheats to host any 1800s shindig. While I liked the characterization of Daniels, I felt that the author used too much technical jargon to drown readers. It was as if Rohde just assumed I knew enough about betting through railroad communication wires. Or, how land development deals works in complex lake establishments. News flash – I don't.

If you love trains and mid-century railroad politics, High Red for Dead is definitely in your lane. For my limited experience with the railroad industry, Rohde derailed me. Buyer beware.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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