Murder near an Oklahoma POW camp.
After Hook Runyon lost much of his right arm in a car accident, his wife Janet, who was driving, added insult to injury by leaving him. Though he’s ridden the rails and engrossed himself in books in the years since, the sting of her abandonment and the memory of his missing limb remain vivid. He lives a solitary life, bunking in a caboose and working at the Waynoka train depot, his only friend the similarly outcast moonshiner Spark Dugan. When Spark is found dead on a block of ice beneath a reefer car, only Hook seems to see anything suspicious or to care. On the death certificate, he defiantly lists the cause as homicide and resolves to investigate. A few miles to the north is the POW installation Camp Alva, which holds a group of German prisoners. Hook figures to check it out as part of his probe, not knowing what the reader has already learned: Dr. Reina Kaplan has just been assigned to the camp to implement a propaganda program—forbidden by the Geneva Convention—involving German soldiers. Though Major Stan Foreman, the Camp Commander, stonewalls Hook on his first visit, he’s undeterred. He uncovers more secrets, suffers a brutal assault and finds a surprising new love on his way to solving Spark’s murder.
As a mystery, Russell’s (Dreams to Dust, 2006, etc.) moody story misses the forest for the historical trees, but readers engrossed in the mid-1940s world he evokes won’t mind.