Why would a man stand in a tunnel with a train speeding down a 3 percent grade at him?
Hook Runyon has given up hobo drifting and resentments over the loss of his arm to eke out life as a railroad bull with rummage sale books and his dog, Mixer, for company. He sallies forth from his new home, a derelict caboose parked in a corner of Scrap West’s salvage yard, to hightail it to trouble spots along the tracks as an underpaid, irascible security guard. This time, he’s sent to nearby Johnson Canyon Tunnel in Arizona’s high desert, where Joseph Erickson, an army guard assigned to oversee the tunnel, has been run down by a train. Lt. Allison Capron, U.S. Army Department of Transportation, is quick to rule the matter a suicide, but Hook disagrees. Between scurrying after copper thieves stealing from Scrap and slugging down Jim Beams, he learns that a rival suitor may have killed Erickson, then taken off on a crime spree with the object of their affections, a waitress at Blue’s Cafe. Now that the atom bomb has been dropped and the war ended, it’s unclear why the army is still intent on guarding the tunnel from saboteurs. And why is Hook being followed and lied to by the pretty lieutenant? Hook finally waylays the elusive copper thieves, but there will be several more deaths before a secret war project comes into focus and the tunnel’s importance is revealed.
One could not hope to find a droller guide through the ’40s or a more ardent dispenser of train knowledge than Hook (The Insane Train, 2010, etc.). And if a slightly rickety plot doesn’t quite live up to the atmosphere and characters, so be it.