It’s April of 1956, and the pride of Santa Fe’s fleet, the storied Super Chief, is preparing to depart Chicago’s Dearborn Station en route to LA. Aboard is an unusual assortment of passengers. There’s Darwin Rinehart, a Hollywood producer whose latest flop is ending a once- great career. Millionaire Otto Wheeler, who has taken more trips on the Super than anyone, sits in his wheelchair contemplating this last trip to his hometown in Kansas. Another regular, Clark Gable, prepares for a journey, as always, filled with women and Scotch. Down the line, ex-President Harry Truman will board as well, accompanied only by his bodyguard. Unknown to all, another man, sickly and desperate, slips into an empty stateroom by bribing a waiter. Long before the Super makes its destination, death will stalk the great streamliner.
The premise of the Super is excellent, the characters intriguing and the setting, the celebrated train itself, fascinating, but this could have been a much better book. The plot, for instance, is strange. The main mystery, one that holds a most unusual solution, is disposed of surprisingly early, while another, which occurs much later, is simply inexplicable. The format is lacking in description, which Mr. Lehrer does very well, in favor of dialog which tends to overwhelm the action. Likewise, the author shines with his details of this iconic train and its fabulous passengers, but sadly there are simply too few of them to be really satisfying. One has the impression that the author simply couldn’t be bothered as he rushed through the writing of this work. Travel aboard the Super Chief should be a leisurely and luxurious experience, not the sparse and harried trip Mr. Lehrer takes us on.