Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes is a 2019 American Mystery Classics publication.
Rating: 5 stars
Source: Advanced copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley
“Four years after she arrived in Los Angeles, Kitten Agnew has become a star. Though beautiful and talented, she’d be nowhere without Vivien Spender: Hollywood’s most acclaimed director—and its most dangerous. But Kitten knew what she was getting into when she got involved with him; she had heard the stories of Viv’s past discoveries: Once he discarded them, they ended up in a chorus line, a sanatorium, or worse. She knows enough of his secrets that he wouldn’t dare destroy her career. But he may be willing to kill her.
On a train from Los Angeles to Chicago, Kitten learns that Viv is planning to offer her roommate a part that was meant for her. If she lets him betray her, her career will be over. But fight for the part, and she will be fighting for her life as well.” – Goodreads
Though her list of published books only weighs in at fourteen, most written over a twelve year span, Dorothy Hughes’ noir style of writing is the best I’ve read in quite some time. Three of her books, The Lonely Place, The Fallen Sparrow, and Ride the Pink Horse, were adapted for the big screen, with Humphrey Bogart starring in The Lonely Place. Her novels being of a style suitable for the cinema is very evident in Dread Journey. The glamour, drama, and suspense of the ill-fated train ride were very typical of classic black and white films. Complete with elegant ladies in distress and the tough, hard-edged men destined to save them, this novel rounds out everything you’d expect in that style of writing.
The plot was fairly straight forward. The reader knows from within the pages of the first chapter the killer, the victim, and how it will be done. The story isn’t the typical crime novel where the culprit is unknown and the detective, along with the reader, must find the truth. This novel is all about the buildup of suspense. It’s the “crash” you know is coming and are helpless to stop, and yet you can’t turn away from it. The characters are so flawed but most are still likable, even if you want to slap a few of them (in a highly dramatic style to fit the feel of the book, of course.) The confinement of the train seems to accentuate the high level of emotions within the story…there is literally no escape and as the story progresses I felt those emotions press more and more.
Even if the rest of the book wasn’t the piece of writing perfection that it was, the ending was really what set this book at the top of the list for me. When I was expecting no surprises, I was blindsided by how this book wrapped up. Talk about intense! Overall, this was a masterpiece of noir fiction and the author’s books will be added to my must read list for the upcoming year.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book for your own shelves, you can find it at the following retailer.