The best mysteries on (and off) the tracks

Who am I?

As soon as I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I had to write about these real-life train hostesses who rode the rails on the old California Zephyr, which existed from 1949 to 1970. The only woman on a train crew, someone who keeps an eye on passengers and situations, anticipating and solving problems—who would be better placed to solve a mystery on a train? Jill is my traveling Miss Marple. I’m a former newspaper reporter, Navy journalist, and have been writing for decades, first the Jeri Howard series, then the Jill McLeod series, and lately a book featuring geriatric care manager Kay Dexter, The Sacrificial Daughter.


I wrote...

Death Rides the Zephyr

By Janet Dawson,

Book cover of Death Rides the Zephyr

What is my book about?

Jill McLeod rides the rails. She’s a Zephyrette, a train hostess, the sole female crew member on the sleek silver streamliner called the California Zephyr. It’s December 1952, an eastbound run from California to Chicago. The train is full of passengers from all walks of life—including a killer. 

Jill is the passengers’ primary point of contact, armed with a first-aid kit, her knowledge of human nature, and her powers of observation. The resourceful Zephyrette handles everything from injured passengers, accusations of theft, to a Christmas party for kids aboard the train. Then someone goes missing—and Jill finds a body. When an avalanche stops the train cold in a remote canyon, Jill must use her skills to solve the crime and identify the killer.

The books I picked & why

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Murder on the Orient Express

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of Murder on the Orient Express

Why this book?

The classic, the best. Nobody does it better than Dame Agatha, who wrote in her autobiography, “To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers - in fact, to see life.” Hercule Poirot travels on the Orient Express from Istanbul. One of the passengers, an unpleasant American tycoon, tries to hire Poirot as his bodyguard. But Poirot refuses. Then an avalanche traps the train and the passenger is discovered dead, stabbed multiple times in his compartment, which is locked from the inside. Murder most foul. The Belgian detective must interview over a dozen suspects, using all his little grey cells to discover how, who, and why.

Murder on the Orient Express

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Murder on the Orient Express as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MOST WIDELY READ MYSTERY OF ALL TIME—NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY KENNETH BRANAGH AND PRODUCED BY RIDLEY SCOTT!

“The murderer is with us—on the train now . . .”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer.

Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s…


4:50 from Paddington: A Miss Marple Mystery

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of 4:50 from Paddington: A Miss Marple Mystery

Why this book?

Another Christie, out of a handful of books Dame Agatha wrote set on trains. Much as I like Poirot, I love Jane Marple, the quiet spinster from St. Mary Mead who knits, knows everyone, and is well-schooled in human nature and foibles. Talk about powers of observation. In this classic, Miss Marple’s friend Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy is traveling by train. At a moment when two trains are traveling side by side on different tracks, she looks out the window of her compartment and sees a man strangling a woman. The railway authorities don’t believe her—quelle surprise! With no other witnesses, no suspects, and no corpse, who will believe her? Jane Marple, of course, who has a plan to out the killer.

4:50 from Paddington: A Miss Marple Mystery

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 4 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Agatha Christie's classic Miss Marple railway mystery, reissued in a beautiful new classic hardcover edition designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.

'Oh, Jane! I've just seen a murder!'

For an instant the two trains ran together, side by side. In that frozen moment, Elspeth witnessed a murder. Helplessly, she stared out of her carriage window as a man remorselessly tightened his grip around a woman's throat. The body crumpled. Then the other train drew away.

But who, apart from Miss Marple, would take her story seriously? After all, there were no suspects,…


Murder on the Flying Scotsman: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery

By Carola Dunn,

Book cover of Murder on the Flying Scotsman: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery

Why this book?

Another British mystery by a British author, this one with Carola Dunn’s resourceful and determined sleuth, the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, who sleuths in the 1920s, when England is just recovering from the Great War. Daisy makes a living writing magazine articles but she keeps stumbling over dead bodies, much to the chagrin of Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher. In this book, early in the series, Daisy boards the Flying Scotsman, heading from London to Edinburgh. Then Belinda Fletcher shows up. The detective’s daughter is on the lam from her difficult grandmother. Then someone gets murdered on the train and Daisy once again finds herself a suspect and reluctant sleuth.

Murder on the Flying Scotsman: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery

By Carola Dunn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murder on the Flying Scotsman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Daisy's in danger of heading off the rails!

Daisy's embarking on a journey to Edinburgh and her biggest worry is that she has forgotten her book, so how will she pass the time? Her concern proves to be pointless, however, as once the journey begins Daisy finds a pint-sized stowaway on board - Belinda, the daughter of dreamy Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, Daisy's beau.

No sooner has this problem revealed itself than Daisy and Belinda run into a bickering Scottish clan en route to the deathbed of the head of the family. But before the express reaches its first…


Breakheart Pass

By Alistair MacLean,

Book cover of Breakheart Pass

Why this book?

A crowded troop train is heading across a desolate stretch of tracks through the Rocky Mountains. It’s the dead of winter 1873 and you can almost feel the chill seeping into the railcars. The troops are headed to Fort Humboldt to relieve the cholera-stricken garrison. In addition to the troops, the train’s passengers include a powerful governor, the daughter of the fort’s commander, and a US marshal escorting an outlaw prisoner. But people and their stories aren’t what they seem. A passenger is murdered. Time is running out and a lot of people are going to wind up dead before the end of the story. A masterful thriller by MacLean.

Breakheart Pass

By Alistair MacLean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breakheart Pass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rare Alistair Maclean western adventure.

Blood on the Tracks

By Barbara Nickless,

Book cover of Blood on the Tracks

Why this book?

Something different here, a contemporary mystery set in Denver, Colorado, featuring Sydney Rose Parnell and her K9 partner Clyde. Both are Iraqi War vets and now they work for the railroad. Sydney is a railroad police special agent and she’s brought into a murder case by the Denver police. She finds herself sleuthing amid the community of homeless rail riders. A gripping thriller that’s the first in a series.

Blood on the Tracks

By Barbara Nickless,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Blood on the Tracks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Amazon Charts bestseller.

A young woman is found brutally murdered, and the main suspect is the victim's fiance, a hideously scarred Iraq War vet known as the Burned Man. But railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell, brought in by the Denver Major Crimes unit to help investigate, can't shake the feeling that larger forces are behind this apparent crime of passion.

In the depths of an icy winter, Parnell and her K9 partner, Clyde-both haunted by their time in Iraq-descend into the underground world of a savage gang of rail riders. There, they uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy and…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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