Monday, November 14, 2022

Funeral Train by Laurie Loewenstein

First Line: There was a railroad crossing out that way.
A train derailment hits the small town of Vermillion, Oklahoma hard. The hospital is filled to bursting with the wounded and dying. The Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe Railroad sends a detective to find the cause of the derailment, and he immediately seeks out the local sheriff, Temple Jennings, whose wife was on the train and is now in the hospital.
Jennings and railroad detective Claude Steele soon discover that the derailment is sabotage, and when a local recluse who lived next to the railroad tracks is murdered the next night, Jennings believes that her murder and the derailment are connected.
But as he looks into the life of the murdered woman, he uncovers information that puts many of the townspeople on his list of suspects. 


I have yet to read a book written by Laurie Loewenstein that I haven't liked. She has a blend of character, story, and setting that suits me right down to the ground. The opening scenes of Funeral Train are chilling as I was introduced to people on a passenger train shortly before it derailed. Then I was sickened and infuriated when Loewenstein shared some information about passenger trains in the 1930s. (Black travelers had to pay full price to travel in shoddy, flimsy passenger cars commonly referred to as "pine hearses" placed right behind the locomotives while white passengers traveled in comfort farther back in metal cars that were much less likely to be damaged.)

The mystery is a good one, but the real strength of Funeral Train lies in its portrait of small-town life during the double whammy of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. I felt as though I were in Vermillion right along with the railroad detective, Claude Steele, and Sheriff Temple Jennings as they searched for clues among the cranks, gossips, and fine, upstanding citizens there in town. Jennings, who survived the Johnstown Flood as a child, is a mentor to his deputy, Ed McCance, who watches Jennings carefully and writes down what the sheriff says in a notebook. Newly married, McCance not only wants to be sheriff one day but he also wants to stay alive in order to earn the promotion. Jennings and McCance are trying to find a killer, but they also must deal with a noisy dog, the town's blind movie theater owner, and Gwendolyn the cow. Life in all its variety in small-town Oklahoma.

It's hard to describe how much at home I felt while reading this book, but the reason why did occur to me as the pages turned. It is the small details Loewenstein weaves into her story. I grew up among family members who were teenagers during the Depression. The way Loewenstein's characters talk is the way my family members talked. Grain elevators were also the biggest buildings in my hometown,  my family also gathered to play pinochle on Saturday evenings, and A Child's Garden of Verses was familiar to me whenever I was sick in bed.

Funeral Train is steeped in its time and place, and its finely delineated characters bring a town and a mystery to life. If you enjoy historical mysteries and have yet to read Laurie Loewenstein, you're missing out. Do something about it!

Funeral Train by Laurie Loewenstein
eISBN: 9781636140650
Akashic Books © 2022
eBook, 319 pages
Historical Mystery, #2 Dust Bowl mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. It sounds like a powerful novel, Cathy, and one that really shares what life was like at that time. Just your description of the story makes me sick to think of the casual institutional racism that people simply took for granted. That's the sort of history people need to know if we're ever to heal. The fact that Lowenstein can do that and still keep the reader involved in the story is a major plus in my book.

    1. She does an excellent job in keeping readers involved in her stories.

  2. I still have my copy of A Child's Garden of Verses 🙂. I think I already have Lowenstein on my TBR list, but I'm going to double-check.

    1. I hope you checked and made sure she's on there. ;-)

      My mother could recite "The Land of Counterpane." For the first eight years of my life, I seemed to collect every germ that came to town... when I wasn't having freak accidents.

  3. I haven't heard of this author. Glad you found yourself at home in this book. I'll have to try this writer.

  4. A friend just recommended this book and Diary of a Rainmaker by same author. I will check them out.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!