When Sheldon Russell stood before classes at the University of Central Oklahoma, few would have guessed the quiet professor would gain notable success as a novelist.
“Dead Man's Tunnel” (Minotaur Books, $29.99) is the third offering in his Hook Runyon series and is the best. Another will be published in the months ahead.
Now retired and devoting his time to writing, Russell shows talent that many pursue but most find elusive. In all, he has six novels to his credit.
Runyon, a crusty, one-armed ex-hobo, is a railroad detective who deserves more respect than he gets. When he isn't using his wits and his fist, he spends time seeking rare books, usually at dusty estate sales. Mixer, his devoted dog, adds spice to the book.
Runyon's task in this novel is to solve the mystery of a murder in a train tunnel in the high desert of Arizona as well as to round up copper thieves. The time is the close of World War II, when the world is changing and Runyon is trying to decide on some other career. Living in a caboose is not the American dream.
Russell exquisitely describes his characters, including a sheriff in this book and a hooker in an earlier one. Runyon and the other characters are masters of sharp comebacks in their conversations, each trying to outdo the other in sarcasm.
The rough-and-ready detective, often called a yard dog, does not tolerate fools easily.
His constant smoking tires the reader a bit, not to mention what it is doing to Runyon's lungs.
It's trite to say a book is a good read, but there's no better way to describe this one. Give it a try.
— Dennie Hall