Murder, Glamour, and #MeToo, 1940s-Style: Dread Journey by Dorothy B. Hughes

The train never makes it to New York.

Despite the best efforts of those on board, Viv does succeed in murdering Kitten. The tension building up to the murder is executed flawlessly, and kudos to Hughes for succeeding in shocking me with Kitten’s death, even though everything had been building to it.

In one of the more chilling moments, Viv expresses astonishment that there could be any consequences to his murder of Kitten. He honestly views it as a justifiable act. Kitten was in his way. And HE is VIVIEN SPENDER. It evokes shades of Harvey Weinstein at his sentencing saying, “I’m totally confused.” It’s both shocking and totally unsurprising to see this 1940s portrayal and to recognize it so immediately from today.

In the end, it is Mike Dana who takes Viv down. The one woman he didn’t sexualize, didn’t desire, and therefore completely underestimated. In a heartrending scene, Mike, who has internalized Viv’s misogyny, laces his drink with poison in order to save him from the ordeal of a trial and a jail sentence. She knows that the others on the train have gathered evidence of the crime, and she doesn’t want to see Viv suffer. She loves him. It’s a painful end for Mike, as the book doesn’t tell us what happens to her, but we know that the astute and observant James Cobbett has seen her enter Viv’s compartment.

We have just witnessed Mike being another female life sacrificed on Viv’s altar.

Dread Journey has so much more going on in it that I haven’t even covered. Dorothy B. Hughes touches on race and class and does a spectacular job of conjuring up a sinister atmosphere.

I definitely urge you to seek out Dorothy B. Hughes books. I know I will be!

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