Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Yard Dog - Sheldon Russell

Haven't done a book review in a couple of months, but you know how visits to my dad's lead to reading. So let's see if I can squeeze a few more books in before the end of the year.

The Yard Dog is Russell's first book starring railroad detective (or "yard dog", less favorably) Walter "Hook" Runyon. Hook lost an arm in a car wreck, then spent time wandering the country after his wife divorced him, and eventually became a yard dog. He's currently set up shop in Oklahoma, near the town of Alva, and a local fellow named Spark Duggan is found under the wheels of a reefer car. Everyone else is perfectly happy to write it off as Spark - who was a little simple-minded even before you factor in his love of the 'shine - falling asleep on the rails. But Hook isn't sure, and some people beat him up while he snooped around Spark's shack, and there is a German prisoner of war camp nearby.

Oh yeah, the books are set during World War 2. That's apparently a theme of the series, Hook moving from one rail yard to another, and coming into contact with different aspects of the war. The possible downside to this approach would seem to be it would cause a near total overhaul of Hook's supporting cast after every book.

Which is surprising, because Russell spends a lot of time building the cast in this book, from a love interest who is working on reeducating the prisoners, to his sidekick (who is also his 'shine hookup), to some of the railroad personnel. There seem to be a lot if disparate threads in the book, so much so that at times Spark's murder almost gets lost in the shuffle. I started to wonder if Russell was even going to explain it, or if was going to end up solving some other crime entirely, but finding no answer for Spark. Kind of doubted my dad would recommend a series that took that approach, but you can't rule it out.

They do all come together eventually, even if it doesn't feel entirely satisfactory.  Hook's relationship with Reina moved really fast, but beyond that, something about the solution to the mystery bugged me. Maybe it felt too big, like Russell felt he had to do something with the setting, but it didn't feel quite natural. Trying too hard, basically. Also, his dialogue is really stilted with most of the characters other than Hook. It tends to be too formal for certain characters.

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