Tuesday, February 8, 2011
NEW STUFF : The Insane Train - Sheldon Russell
It sure took a long time for the train to get going. As for the journey itself, based on the jacket blurb I thought was going to be reading And Then There Were None on rails. Instead the story turned out to be more of a crime thriller with a colorful train background that kept pushing its way into the foreground. In fact, the train journey itself takes up only a third of the book. No sooner does the killer strike but is eliminated in a gruesomely described scene. It's less "Who done it?" and more and more "What the heck is going on here?"
The story has many tangential elements. For a second book there seemed to be a bit too much emphasis placed on Hook's life as it related to his job rather than the story of the inmates, the vets and the killer wreaking havoc on and off the train. I was disappointed that the mystery took a back seat to Hook's little romance with a nurse, Hook's impending hearing with railway officials, Hook's problems with a brutish thug of a cop, and the many mechanical and navigational problems encountered on the beat up train that takes the inmates to Oklahoma.
One aspect of Hook's life that I did like came as a complete surprise. He is an avid book collector. There are quite a few amateur detectives in the genre who have this hobby, but it's often mentioned just in passing. I usually go out of my way to buy any mystery that has book collecting as part of the plot, so this was a nice bonus.
Hook's hobby comes to the foreground in two informative scenes that tells me Russell must be something of a bibliophile himself, if not a bibliomaniac. When Andrea, the nurse, asks Hook if it's an interest of his he replies that it is rather "[a]n obsession. and I'm not the best company when I'm in the midst of a hunt." But he asks Andrea to tag along with him not once, but twice. She seems to bring him good luck, too, as he finds a few book treasures in their days out together.
As a study in the failing corporate railway industry of the post WW2 era this crime novel works very well. For a detective novel enthusiast like me it left me with mixed feelings because the author keep leaving the main story hanging while he went off with Hook someplace else. Still, I'll be looking for the first book (The Yard Dog) to see how that compares. But there's no doubt that Russell loves trains. He is like one of your old college instructors who knew how to take a topic that might seem incredibly dry and make it come to life in a fascinating way.