Monday, January 20, 2014

Paperback Novelties: Dread Journey, by Dorothy B. Hughes

Here's an unusual paperback from 1947, Pocket Books' edition of Dorothy B. Hughes psychological thriller Dread Journey (1945).  I'll be reviewing this train mystery later this week (a book review of another mystery will be uploaded later today).

How often do we see African-Americans on crime fiction paperbacks in the 1940s and 1950s.  Experts, help me out here!

In this case I think the most striking individual is the African-American railway porter.  His glance at the couple directs attention to them (and particularly the woman's fearful reaction to what she sees in the passenger compartment), but he holds attention in his own right.

a Pullman porter
The depiction of the porter on this paperback seems quite a ways off from what we were getting with portrayals of African-Americans in such forties films as the Charlie Chan mysteries, for example. Superb artwork, I think, one of the classiest paperback covers from the era that I have seen (does it remind anyone else a bit of Mexican mural art?).

On African-American porters see this interesting article by article by Lawrence Tye, author of the book Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class (2004).


  1. AARGH! It happened again. Dread Journey is in my TBR pile and was a going to be reviewed by me in February. I have it lined up as a "Book with a mode of transportation" for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. This is truly becoming like some kind of habitual commuter trip into the Twilight Zone!

  2. So guess what other book I'm uploading a review for tonight, Kreskin!

  3. That is a marvellous looking cover Curt - and really looking forward to hearing about what's in the book too!

  4. I'm not an expert, but I've certainly seen a ton of paperbacks in my day … African-Americans on the covers, not so much in the 1940s, but in the 1950s, absolutely; particularly from Signet. There was a sub-genre of "steamy Southern romances" patterned after the paperback success of "Tobacco Road", and thematic veins like "woman of colour passing for white", "urban juvenile delinquent gang comes to a bad end", and "hillbilly Romeo & Juliet"-- I think you'd find African-Americans frequently represented on the covers of these types of novels. The only earlier one I can think of than the one you show here is actually a bit of a cheat: Popular Library #80, Frances Crane's "The Golden Box", from 1946. As my memory tells me, the silhouette of the hanged woman on the cover is that of an African-American servant, but you'd only know that if you read the book.

  5. I'm a bit obsessed by thrillers and mysteries set on trains. The only Dorothy B. Hughes book I've read is the excellent Ride the Pink Horse.