Railroad bull Hook Runyon and his dog, Mixer, are chasing persistent pickpockets on the Santa Fe line, when Hook is called to investigate a malfunctioning wigwag signal in the middle of nowhere. A young man has been strung up there, hung from the signal, and left strangled to death. Hook finds no identification on the body, other than a bronze hero's medal around the corpse's neck, with the name Samuel Ash engraved on it. Refusing to bury what seems to be a World War II hero in a pauper's grave, Hook vows to find the dead boy's family, as well as his killer.
With the casket in tow, and slowed down by an over-educated sidekick, Junior Monroe, and a stream of new tasks from the head of division, Hook finally finds his way to Carmen, Oklahoma. But no one there has ever heard of anyone named Samuel Ash. There are secrets in Carmen, most of them associated with the local orphanage and its disliked director, and Hook is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the hanging of Samuel Ash.
Vivid characterizations, searing descriptions, and a twisty plot make Sheldon Russell's The Hanging of Samuel Ash a gripping read.
A compelling lead compensates only in part for the relatively weak plot of Russell's fourth mystery featuring one-armed Santa Fe railroad bull Hook Runyon (after 2012's Dead Man's Tunnel), set during WWII against a backdrop of labor unrest. When Runyon checks out a nonworking signal on a remote stretch of track, he discovers a man's corpse hanging from the signal's cantilever. The only clue to the dead man's identity is a Bronze Star inscribed with the name Samuel Ash. Not wanting the war hero to be buried in a pauper's grave, Runyon takes custody of the body and embarks on a quest to find Ash's relatives and the truth about his death. A dose of humor lightens the gloom pickpockets steal Runyon's wallet and badge while he's hunting pickpockets but the mystery itself never picks up much steam. Fans will hope for a return to form next time.