Dead Man's Tunnel is the third installment in Sheldon Russell's 1940s series featuring yard dog Hook Runyon.
Near the end of WWII, Hook Runyon, railroad bull, and his dog, Mixer, are sent to the West Salvage Yard in the high desert of Arizona. Not far away is the Johnson Canyon Tunnel. Though remote and ordinary as tunnels go, it is the gateway to the steepest railroad grade in North America and a potential bottleneck for the delivery of war supplies. So vital is this tunnel to the war effort that a twenty-four hour military guard has been assigned for the duration. Hook's orders are to catch copper thieves and to stay out of sight and out of trouble. But things go awry when Hook receives a call that one of the guards has been killed mid-tunnel by an oncoming train. Lieutenant Allison Capron from the Army Transportation Department is called in to help with the investigation. At first, suicide by train is suspected, but the evidence soon suggests homicide resulting from a love triangle. Unable to fit his own findings into either of these theories, Hook suspects something more sinister.
Set just after the end of WWII, Russell's richly atmospheric third Hook Runyon mystery (after 2010's The Insane Train) finds his railroad detective hero exiled to tiresome duty guarding an Arizona salvage yard, where Runyon has failed to catch thieves who've been stealing copper wire. Runyon soon gets a more interesting task after a train runs down Sgt. Joseph Erikson while on guard duty in the nearby Johnson Canyon rail tunnel. Given Erikson's experience, Runyon considers it unlikely that the soldier wouldn't have seen the locomotive bearing down on him. By rejecting the official theory that the death was accidental, the detective puts himself at odds with his boss and the army. When Runyon uncovers a possible personal motive for Erikson's murder, he receives little support in pursuing it. A humane, credible lead bolsters a carefully constructed plot.