“Set in 1940s Oklahoma, this debut mystery is centered on Hook Runyon, a railroad detective – a/k/a yard dog. Unable to enlist in the war effort for WW2 because he lost an arm in an auto accident, he is nevertheless fit enough to nab pickpockets and run off hoboes. He lives in a caboose filled with the antique books he collects, and drinks local moonshine made by his friend Runt. When the body of local itinerant Spark Dugan is found under a reefer (refrigerated car) Hook is naturally called to investigate. But he’s immediately suspicious when he is pushed to close the case quickly. The reefer had arrived at the icing station, manned by crews of German prisoners from the nearby Alva POW camp, yet no one saw anything. As he investigates further, Hook suspects a black market ring is being run from the POW camp, but it becomes clear that the conspiracy has larger international implications.
I really like Hook and Runt, who are multi-layered characters with interesting back stories. However, Russell really stumbled in writing the two women characters –Amanda Roswell and Dr Reina Kaplan. They are two-dimensional cutouts, and the well-educated Reina behaves so stupidly as to be completely unbelievable. The bad guys are also pretty thinly drawn and we get little more than villain “types” straight out of central casting. On the other hand, the plot was interesting and drew me in although Russell spends quite a lot of time setting things up and introducing us to the various characters. While he was doing this I had figured out the central issue, but had to wade through the second half of the book for the characters to catch up. Then, after spending all those pages setting up the conspiracy plot, Russell rushes the ending.
This all sounds very negative, but I did enjoy the book, and because of Hook and Runt I’d be willing to read another in the series. I want to get to know them better.