Wednesday, July 22, 2020

HIgh Red for Dead by William L. Rohde (1951)

also published as Murder on the Line

About the author: Very little is known about author William L. Rohde (1918-2000). Born in Dallas, the author wrote a handful of early Nick Carter: Killmaster installments as well as crime-fiction novels like Help Wanted for Murder (1950), Uneasy Lies the Head (1957) and V.I.P. (1957). He also wrote a number of western short stories as well as one full-length paperback, The Gun-Crasher (1957). The 1951 novel High Red for Dead was published by Fawcett Gold Medal. It was re-printed by Fawcett in 1957 as Murder on the Line with new cover art. (from paperback warrior)

Major characters:
  • Mohawk "Mo" Daniels, railroad detective
  • Tug Jillson, railroad detective
  • Patricia Gordon, operates the Robin Valley Lodge
  • Charles Polestra, owns the Robin Valley Lodge
  • Lucretia "Luke" Polestra, his daughter, owns The Daisy Hotel
  • Frank Triggs, railroad lawyer and promoter
  • Nelson Wimberly, railroad trustee (financial controller)
  • Paul Carding, drunk railroad employee
  • Amos Carding, Paul's father; railroad agent
  • Johnny Johnson, a porter
  • Orville Schmidt, owns a nudist camp
  • Shinny McCarthy, a telegrapher
  • Talkin' Joe Zelinksy
Locale: Not stated, but appears to be upstate New York


Sample: He pressed Patricia down in the weeds between the rails. The first bullet went over their heads. "Scared?" "A little." They lay with their heads close together. He did not have to move far to kiss her. It tasted good.

Railroad detective Mo Daniels has a fistfight with a drunk railroad employee, Paul Carding. Daniels meets the wealthy Polestras - Charles Polestra is the new owner of the swanky Robin Valley Lodge, his daughter Lucretia Polestra is the new owner of the more modest Daisy Hotel. Daniels has been dating Patricia Gordon, who is the manager at the Robin Valley Lodge, but is distracted the redhead/green-eyed Lucretia.

The A&N Railroad is in trouble financially, and has been suffering from thefts. Daniels and his assistant Tug Jillson are tasked with finding the thieves. Daniels finds railroad promoter Frank Triggs shot in a parlor car on a siding, initially suspecting Paul Carding of revenge. He seeks out Lucretia to check Carding's alibi, finds her at Orville Schmidt's nudist colony where, after doffing his clothes (it's the rules) he chases her around and into the woods where they have, shall we say, a pleasant interlude.

Paul Carding's father, Amos Carding, is shot at his desk. Action moves to Nick's Maple Grove, which is adjacent to a trucking terminal. Tug sets up a stakeout in the woods to watch the happenings. Mo and Patricia go to a remote siding to check up on a tip, and walk into an ambush which leaves telegrapher Shinny McCarthy dead. Mo and Patricia escape over the nearby Appalachian Trail before returning to chase down the guilty parties.


Oh, what fun! We are back in hard-boiled, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, double-entendre'd 1950 when Men were Men and Dames were Things to be Ogled as they crossed their nylon-stockinged legs at the bar and looked around for Someone to Please Light their Cigarette. The fisticuffs begin rightaway on page one!

It is interesting to read of the ritzy upstate New York resorts - the Robin Valley Lodge reminds me of Kellerman's Mountain Resort (which was based on the real Grollinger's Catskill Resort) from Dirty DancingNick's Maple Grove roadhouse night club has valet parking - over 100, yes over 100, tables occupied (how many empty ones?!) - an orchestra for dancing - hostesses (rent-a-girls) for dancing if you came stag - hat check girls - rest room attendants with cloth towels -  and of course, a casino. The hostesses contribute to the bottom line by allowing the men to buy them lots of drinks - but they never get drunk. Why? They know the secret* which is revealed in this book. Where have these places gone? Take me back!

The railroad scenes and story line are believable - it was somewhat amusing when a derailment places a locomotive, combine, and coach off the rails and into a building - and the reaction was to just couple another locomotive onto the remaining passenger cars and send the train on its way after a brief delay. Just another day on the railroad. Today everything would be preserved in place for exhaustive investigations as helicopters hover overhead.

The nudist camp incident doesn't contribute anything to the plot, but makes a nice blurb on the cover to get more sales.

The escape of Mo and Patricia over the Appalachian Trail is a surprise, and quite accurate and well done.

The term "high red" refers to the position of the railroad semaphore signal - if the semaphore arm is high (for daytime viewing) and the light is red (for nighttime viewing), a stop is indicated.

*How to drink shots and not get drunk (according to this book): Hold the shot in your mouth but don't swallow it. Pick up the chaser glass (ginger ale or tea), pretend to sip from it as you allow the liquor to dribble back into the chaser glass. You heard it here. Your results may vary.

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