The Insane Train
Like an old Humphrey Bogart movie, this second Hook Runyon mystery features wisecracking tough guys making their way through a gritty, mid-1940s West. A California asylum for the criminally insane has suspiciously burned in a deadly fire. Hook, a one-armed railroad cop, is in charge of security for patients and staff as they travel to a new facility in Oklahoma. Hook is an appealing character who loves his dog, rare books, moonshine, and Nurse Andrea. Inexplicably, he must not only talk his bosses into providing the train for the trip but also provide staffing, something he accomplishes by hiring homeless vets and a prostitute. Hook is also juggling a disciplinary charge for having disastrously left his truck on a track while chasing down a hobo. Although the plot offers no surprises, the stylized corniness (“Who knew better than a railroad dog that crime respected neither time nor place, that evil thrived on complacency and overconfidence and sought out weakness like a pack wolf?”), provides a fun read about how bad those good ol’ days could be.