Sheldon Russell has written a series of books about Hook Runyon, a hobo-turned-yard-dog – a railroad detective – in the 1940s. The latest is “Dead Man’s Tunnel,” and I think I wanted to like it more than I did.
Russell has created a very pleasant character in Runyon, a one-armed investigator working in a thankless job as a railroad dick on a remote line in Arizona. He’s guarding the titular tunnel that was crucial to moving supplies for the war effort.
I say “was” because, as the book opens, the bomb has been dropped on Japan and the war is over. So why is guarding the rail line and tunnel so crucial? Why did a soldier on duty at the tunnel seemingly kill himself by standing in front of a speeding train? And why is everyone so secretive as Runyon tries to get answers to his questions?
I like Runyon even though I found some of the scenes in the book repetitive. I could have done with a few less hostile phone conversations between Runyon and his boss in railroad security, a little less sarcastic back and forth between Runyon and the owner of the scrap yard where Runyon makes his home.
I did really enjoy the wealth of railroad trivia Russell weaves through the story. I feel like I know a lot more about the subject after reading the book.
And Runyon, with his checkered past and his railroad caboose full of old books, is a great character. I’m hoping some of his other outings are better.