Death Deals a Hand: A California Zephyr Mystery

Written by Janet Dawson
Review by Lauren Miller

A year after the disastrous run on the California Zephyr that included a rockslide and a murder in Death Rides the Zephyr, and Jill McLeod is back riding the rails! The westbound trip to California is about to bring new challenges her way, including estranged relations, headstrong teenagers and a few disquieting passengers whom Jill suspects may have checkered pasts. When a poker game sweep results in murder, all bets are off in this whodunit set aboard the 1950s streamliner with the Vista-Dome experience.

Dawson introduces some enjoyable new characters, including Lois Demarest, sweet sixteen and already a handful for her parents, and Pamela Larch, a Southern beauty with a bad case of wanderlust. Readers will be kept on edge as they follow along with Jill’s sleuthing to sort rumor from fact and identify the killer before the villain eludes capture by disembarking on one of the many stops along the route.

Readers who enjoyed the day-to-day account from the first novel will find the sequel bears the same style, but the details can be distracting at best, disengaging at worst. Dawson’s overuse of time references can be off-putting and jarring, interrupting the flow of the text.

Dialogue is interrupted by exposition dumps that could be conveyed later, and at some points, the awkwardly-inserted research feels like fact-dropping or conversational tangents that feel tacked as if to remind the reader, “hey, this is the 1950s!” It may not be a train wreck, but the starts and stops result in far from a smooth ride.