Murder on the Switzerland Trail

Written by Mike Befeler
Review by Tom Vallar

Boulder, Colorado in 1919 has seen so few murders in its brief history that veteran policeman Harry McBride has never had to solve one. He and his wife are enjoying a Sunday train ride into the Rockies following the Switzerland Trail, when his day off turns into his worst case. As the train starts its return trip, one of the passengers staggers through the rear door, points toward the others and shouts, “You assassin!” before collapsing dead from a knife wound.

That assassin, Harry knows, could be the conductor as well as any of the other five on the same car, and he digests their interwoven past relationships and present disagreements he learned about on the trip up the mountain. They all knew the victim, a wounded and bitter World War I soldier, including his former college roommate turned socialist lawyer, their former college landlady, the soldier’s fiancé and her autistic brother, and their former history professor who loves to talk about the rail line and the landmarks they pass on their journey.

Harry is a likable, plodding investigator, who needs a bit of luck to identify the murderer before the train arrives at the Boulder depot. Although the cast of characters Befeler assembles for this voyage resembles an Agatha Christie novel, the writing style and tension fall far short of that peak, in this first effort after leaving his niche genres of “geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries.” He emphasizes the history (weather, news, and movies of the day) by forcing it into stilted dialogue at the expense of the action, and his mouthpiece professor is just an excuse for information dumps embedded in monologues that the passengers, and this reader, soon tire of.