Friday, November 12, 2010

The Insane Train by Sheldon Russell (Plus Giveaway Opportunity)

Part Of The Synopsis From Back Cover:

The Baldwin Insane Asylum in Barstow, California, has recently burned to the ground in an inferno that cost many inmates their lives and injured scores.  Now, Hook Runyon has been put in charge of security for a train that is to transport the survivors, alongside the head of the asylum, Dr. Baldwin, the attending doctor, taciturn Dr. Helms, and a self-sacrificing nurse named Andrea, to a new location in Oklahoma.

I'm going to be honest right up front, the only reason I agreed to read this was because it took place on a train.  I'm a sucker for anything mysterious happening on trains.  I blame it all on Agatha Christie.  After reading Murder On The Orient Express, The Mystery of the Blue Train, and 4:50 From Padington, I was hooked.   Throw in the movie, "Strangers on a Train", from Alfred Hitchcock and nothing could turn me off of a good mystery set on a train.

So needless to say I awaited the arrival of this book with quite a bit of anticipation.  Bad news, I got sidetracked by others things so I didn't get to read the book until recently.  Good news, once I finally got a chance to get started on it, I loved it.  I can't put it into the same league as the Agatha Christie books, but that's not a bad thing.  I'm not sure there are many authors out there that I would put in her league, if any.  What I will say about this particular book though is that it's author knows how to tell a good story.

I haven't read a lot of mystery books set in the United States during the 1940s.  For the most part, the books I read in that time period tend to take place in the United Kingdom or other such European local.  What this means, is that I got to discover a setting and a culture I really never knew existed, but if I ever stopped to think about it, I would have realized that it had to exist.  It should have been obvious that certain occupations  have their own vernacular, customs, and overall attitudes towards life.  I know that such distinctness exists, I just never really stop and think about it.  This culture, I guess that's what you would call it, is personified in it's main character.

Hook Runyon is what they call a yard dog.  In simple terms he is a security guard for the railroad.  His main job it to catch hobos and other criminals from jumping trains or performing illegal activities (prostitution for example) on company property.  What I found fascinating about him as a character was the obvious research the author did (at least I assume he did) to make the character sound and act as if he truly belonged in that era.  He is a handicapped man, though he wasn't injured in the war, who is trying the best he can to make it in a world that maybe doesn't give him enough credit.  This man is smarter than I think people really thought of him as.  He is a voracious reader who collects books the way I think most of us would be impressed by.  But most of all he is a quiet caring man who wants to do right by others and is always willing to look for the best possible trait in someone or a stray dog, Mixer.  He is all this but he's rough as well.  He can be abrasive and isn't afraid of getting physical.  He isn't a man to back down from a fight, even with a cop.  I'm going to shut up about him now so I can move onto the story itself, but I can honestly say without this character, I'm not sure I would have liked the books as much as I did.

When that dormitory at the asylum burnt down it killed scores of young men that were being housed in it.  When the director of the asylum decides to move the surviving patients and the staff that is willing to move from Barstow, CA to an abandoned fort in Oklahoma, the railroad sends Hook to assess the situation and escort them to their new home.  Needless to say, Hook is quickly sucked into the drama surrounding the fire, which may not have been accidental.  When other incidents start happening Hook becomes more convinced that something else is going on.  With the help and some loving from Andrea Delven, the nurse in charge of the women's dormitory, Hook begins to investigate to find out what truly happens. Along the way other bodies start appearing, doctors are drugged, cases of food poisoning break out, and some colorful characters hop aboard for the ride as well.

Now this is the second book in a series but you don't need to read the first book to understand what's going on in this one.  This one at least, though there are a few references to past events, reads as a stand alone novel and I dont' think I missed anything by not reading the first one.  Overall this was an engaging mystery that deals with the way the past can come back and haunt you in ways you would never be able to anticipate. 

I would like to thank Omnimystery for the opportunity to participate in this tour and I would encourage everyone to visit the tour page to discover the other stops on this tour.  The other stop today will be on Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, which will be featuring a guest post by the author.

Now comes the important part, The Giveaway!
The author is giving away a signed copy of this book to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 5061, for your chance to win. Entries from my blog will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) 11/13.  The winner (first name only) will be announced on his book tour page next week.


I just found out that the winner of the giveaway came from here!  The winner was Carol of Allen, TX.  Congrats Carol and I hope you enjoy it!


Ryan said...

Hopefully some of you were able to enter the giveaway.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Sounds so good! I like the review here. Had to stop by, I do not get here often enough Ryan :)