The Yard Dog is a mystery set in the area surrounding a Nazi prisoner of war camp in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma during WW II. Thousands of Nazi prisoners were brought to the US during the war and held in such camps. The main characters include Hook Runyon, a one-armed railroad detective (or "yard dog"), Runt Wallace, a young man with a twisted spine and legs, Dr. Reina Kaplan, a Jewish academic in charge of the program aimed at reeducating the Nazis while they are being held, and a number of other eccentric folks.
The plot revolves around Hook's efforts to investigate the death of a mentally challenged bum who lived around the railyards. As far as mysteries go, the clues build up very slowly and rather haphazardly, with different characters coming across bits of evidence, so the plot drifts a bit, even though the book isn't that long. The payoff is pretty good, but the journey there doesn't build up as much suspense as I would like. Sometimes the narrative voice explaining the thoughts in the characters' heads feels a little forced and cliched as well.
But the dialogue just crackles off the page, quick-witted and very believable, and the period setting is sketched out with sharp, sure details that really bring it to life. Though I lived many years in Texas and have absolutely no love for Oklahoma, it was really engaging. I genuinely liked many of the key characters by the time the story was finished. Another read I stumbled across just by browsing the shelves in the public library, and I'm glad I did.
Its implied that this will be the first in a series of stories about Hook Runyon and I'll look for sequels, on the assumption that plotting is something that an author can get a little sharper with, but establishing a voice and creating an engaging setting are good skills to build upon. Plus, the idea of Hook, who lives in a caboose, traveling to some different period locales doing his work for the railroad has promise, as long as Russell keeps his focus on some of these lost stories and places from the time.