Sunday, May 1, 2011


Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer does a lot more than look sincere on PBS's The News Hour five nights a week. He is an expert on old intercity bus lines and even owns and occasionally drives his own bus. Lehrer is also a novelist with twenty titles to his credit (several of them having to do with buses) a playwright and  a screen writer. He also has written a couple of memoirs.

Super is Lehrer's twentieth novel, published in hardback last year it is now available in a paperback edition, as per the Amazon link at the left. The action all takes place on the Super Chief, the iconic train that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles during the golden age of streamlined railroad trains - and of Hollywood. It is a crime novel, well sort of, in which a Santa Fe Railroad passenger agent, pretending to be a railroad detective, solves the mysterious death of a passenger on the train.

Various movie stars, and at least one impostor, are part of the cast of this novel, most notably Clark Gable. Harry Truman also makes an appearance. The young passenger agent is kept quite busy, keeping the former President comfortable and pitching his idea for a movie set on the Super Chief to the Hollywood contingent. Unfortunately for him, this book is set in the 1950's, as airline travel is beginning to take passengers away from the railroads. His movie idea is seen as passé. Also unfortunately for him, one of his passengers is about to be shot in his compartment.

Despite his gravitas as a newscaster, Jim Lehrer's novels are mostly light entertainment. He does include some themes of social significance. In Super a former Manhattan Project employee confronts Truman about the growing number of cancers affecting those who were exposed to radioactive materials from atomic bomb testing. This is a minor subplot in the book, though.

Super made me a fan of high speed rail. Back in the fifties, many people were pleased to find that they could fly to their destinations, not just due to the reduced travel time, but because they felt badly srved by the monopolistic railroads. Now we feel badly served by the monopolistic airlines - but all we have instead is Amtrack.


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