The Yard Dog: A Mystery

The Yard Dog: A Mystery

4.6 3
by Sheldon Russell

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The Yard Dog takes place near the close of World War II, when a large number of Nazi POWs were incarcerated in camps scattered across the prairies of the United States.

At Waynoka Divisional Point, near POW Camp Alva, the disillusioned Hook Runyon is assigned by the railroad to run off hobos and arrest pickpockets. Left behind in the war because of the


The Yard Dog takes place near the close of World War II, when a large number of Nazi POWs were incarcerated in camps scattered across the prairies of the United States.

At Waynoka Divisional Point, near POW Camp Alva, the disillusioned Hook Runyon is assigned by the railroad to run off hobos and arrest pickpockets. Left behind in the war because of the loss of his arm in a car accident, Hook lives in a caboose, collects rare books, and drinks busthead liquor. When a coal picker by the name of Spark Dugan is found run over by a reefer car, Hook and his sidekick, Runt, the local moonshiner, suspect foul play and are drawn into a scheme far greater than either could have imagined. This conspiracy reaches the highest echelons of the camp and beyond and will push Hook and Runt to their physical and mental limits.

Hook is a complex character, equal parts rough and vulnerable, an unlikely and unwilling hero. He is more than matched by Dr. Reina Kaplan, a Jewish big-city transplant to Camp Alva who is battling her own demons and has been put in charge of educating the Nazi inmates in the basics of democracy before their eventual return to Germany.

Vivid descriptions of period detail, stark landscapes, and unique characters make this first book in the Hook Runyon series a fascinating mystery full of tension and deep insight.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set in Oklahoma at the close of WWII, Russell's engrossing mystery casts light on a little-known corner of American history. When harmless indigent Spark Dugan winds up dead in the Waynoka rail yards, the local yard dog (i.e., railroad detective), Hook Runyon, decides the man's death was no accident. Runyon soon learns that mild-mannered Dugan may have been involved in a local ring smuggling army goods. As more details come to light, Runyon begins to suspect a big-time operation that involves foul play at a nearby Nazi POW camp-and possibly a local oil tycoon with a penchant for lavish living. With the help of the camp cook and community moonshiner as well as the POW camp's English teacher, Runyon and his friends are soon ensnared in a dangerous investigation that's anything but routine railroad detective work. Russell (Dreams to Dust) impressively contrasts the book's raw, colorful characters with the harsh Oklahoma landscape. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher

“Pungent as the coal smoke hanging over a railroad yard, Sheldon Russell's elegantly written The Yard Dog offers a fascinating glimpse of raw passions in an unusual World War II setting that is true to its time and place. As Oklahoma as Woody Guthrie, The Yard Dog is bound for glory.”—Carolyn Hart, author of Dare to Die and Ghost at Work

“Reading The Yard Dog, I could feel the hot coal cinders from passing locomotive engines burn the back of my neck. The setting is pitch perfect mid-century American noir, and I'm hooked on Hook Runyon!”—James R. Benn, author of Evil For Evil: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery

"The era of the Greatest Generation is brought vividly to life in Sheldon Russell's outstanding novel, The Yard Dog, a compelling story of crime, conspiracy, and disillusionment set in an American POW camp at the end of WWII. The plot is gripping, the writing is crisp, and the setting is both historically accurate and immensely evocative. This is a terrific novel."

—William Bernhardt, author of Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness

“Rarely does a book the quality of The Yard Dog come along. Sheldon Russell is the sniper and Yard Dog hits the bull's-eye. Well-written characters, a diabolical plot and Nazis in an Oklahoma prison camp: The Yard Dog has everything it takes to make this the best mystery of the year—or in years! It'll be a real crime if Yard Dog doesn't win an Edgar—it is that good.”—Robert E. Vardeman, author Death Channels

"...a marvelous read." —Booklist (starred review)

"The plot is brilliant and riveting; the characterization is rich and vivid; the setting is distinctive and intriguing. I'm hoping this is the first in a long line of Hook Runyon mysteries." — Fresh Fiction

"Russell has created one of the most noteworthy characters in modern detective fiction...The plot is well thought out, the characters memorable, the setting unusual...The Yard Dog is not only one of the best debuts of the year, it is among the best mysteries of the year." —Mysterious Reviews

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
A Hook Runyon Mystery Series , #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Yard Dog

A Mystery
By Russell, Sheldon

Minotaur Books

Copyright © 2009 Russell, Sheldon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312566708

Men gathered around the reefer, their breaths rising in the morning chill.  The switch engine puffed and sighed, and steam shot from her sides.  Ten or so German POWs watched from atop the ice deck. Ross Ague pushed back his hat and wallowed a cigar stump into the corner of his mouth as Hook approached.

“It’s a goddamn mess, Runyon,” he said, “and there’s cars waiting to ice.  That produce goes to mush, someone’s ass is going on the line, and it ain’t going to be mine.”

Leaning down, Hook looked under the car, his stomach lurching.  An arm was severed and tossed against the rail, its fingers curled.  Caught by the undercarriage, the torso had dragged backward down line, the skin and muscle scoured away by bedrock.  There was no mistaking the frayed cuffs or the wear of Spark Dugan’s heels.


Excerpted from The Yard Dog by Russell, Sheldon Copyright © 2009 by Russell, Sheldon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc.solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

DR. SHELDON RUSSELL, Professor Emeritus, University of Louisville, and University of Central Oklahoma, is the author The Yard Dog, The Insane Train, and four previously published historical novels. He lives in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

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The Yard Dog: A Mystery 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Oklahoma as WWII draws to a close, Hook Runyan touches his armless sleeve and thinks back to his ex wife. She walked away without a mark from a car accident that cost him his limb in which he was a passenger and she the driver; she walked away from him too. Currently he lives alone in a junker caboose near where he works at the Waynoka Train depot just south of POW Camp Alva. When his only friend moonshiner Spark Dugan is found dead in the Waynoka rail yards, no one cares except Hook who knows it his job as the local yard dog to investigate, but this is personal. He begins to uncover unsavory things about his dead buddy including his belonging to a smuggling ring stealing army supplies and selling them on the black market and with ties to the camp. Camp Commander major Foreman refuses to cooperate while newcomer Dr. Reina Kaplan implements an internationally outlawed brainwashing program. Neither of them can deter Hook from his inquiry This is a super mid 1940s mystery that uses the investigation to provide readers with a deep look at the POW camps on American soil and at rationing American capitalist style. The story line is fast-paced as the YARD DOG Hook does his detective job by conducting an inquiry into the death of his buddy. Although the whodunit is well written and very entertaining, the historical view owns the novel as Sheldon Russell provides the audience with an interesting glimpse at WWII in the Oklahoma home front. Harriet Klausner
brushmanDF More than 1 year ago
Hook Runyon is an unusual and very compelling character. Interesting storyline makes me want to read more of him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago