Blood Terminal: Murder in the Magic City
by C. C. Edge
Two Books Publications

"‘...policemen,’ T.J. thought ruefully, ‘were the long-time enemy of the Southern Negro. Yet, somehow, he and Earl had become friends.’"

The Hummingbird passenger train travels throughout the southern and eastern United States, offering transportation and luxury to those that can afford it. Late one night, a woman is murdered in a sleeper car as the train travels toward Birmingham, Alabama. A porter by the name of Alcey Morgan, with a history of rousing up support for a workers union, is called in the middle of the night to catch the Hummingbird and work in that very car where he and another porter discover the woman’s body. The local politics, heavily influenced by segregation, pin the murder on Alcey, who has only his alibi for being there to defend him in the face of racism and a lack of evidence toward any other suspect.

Earl Freeman, a railroad detective with strong moral convictions and a more progressive outlook on the treatment of others, is assigned by the railroad to investigate, but the local police arrest Morgan quickly and expect an easy conviction. An unlikely team forms that includes Earl, his friend T.J. Jackson (the head of the porters on the Hummingbird), and Emma Jackson, T.J. 's wife and an in-home servant of the Wentworth family that sits on the top of the railroad’s board of directors. Together the three of them race against time to exonerate Alcey before either the crooked legal system or the local white supremacist groups can serve as his executioner, dealing with the ever-present dangers of racism, union-busting, murder, and conspiracy at every step along the way.

As with so much of the best historical fiction, while the characters in this story are all compelling, fully realized, and thoughtfully composed, the center stage often goes to the setting itself. Readers will be absorbed in the text, imagining every bump in the track and watching the condensation slide down the pitchers of tea. The temporal undercurrents of racism and segregation in the South, the politics and logistics of rail travel, and the raucous Prohibition-era nightclubs dazzle on page after page and give tremendous life to every moment in the story. Details here work in great service to the story and never feel included purely for the sake of proving the author did their homework. The pace is snappy, and the narrative is free of bloat.

As for the characters themselves, they each get their own opportunities to contribute and shine, from impromptu interrogations to home-cooked meals shared with family and loved ones. There’s a tremendous sense of justice that gives the reader more than ample cause to root for the good guys, especially in the face of a period where that quality was not extended in equal measures to all people. The mystery itself burns slowly at first, and then, like a train itself, is much harder to stop once it reaches full speed. This book is a phenomenal love letter to both the romance and warts of an era gone by, wrapped neatly around a suspenseful tale of murder that gives out enough clues to be engaging without watering down its dramatic finish.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List book and the Mystery/Crime First Runner-Up

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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