Hatch comes across as detective cast in the traditional tough-guy mold, but he is also determined to get at the truth despite there being no fee involved. He is honest and amiable and sprinkles his narrative with homespun stories and brief asides that give us a peek at his life philosophy. He enjoys the job which allows him to ride the rails as he pretends to be a regular passenger while he scopes out the cars looking for pickpockets, con artists, and other bad guys. It is his honest determination to see justice done that brings the crime home to the proper villain--although villain may be a bit strong once you know the circumstances. The motive is perhaps understandable and the killer not completely evil.
This novel was, in many ways, a nice surprise. Hatch speaks directly to the reader in a first person narrative that works really well (and you all know how I like to complain about the first person POV). It's a shame that Campbell wrote only two novels starring Hatch, because he's detective I would have enjoyed following through several cases. And even though it is written in a more hard-boiled style, it really is an old-fashioned mystery with a solid cast of characters. The one item that keeps the book from rising above the ★★★ rating is the handling of Hatch's love life. He follows in the footsteps of many a private eye by having a lady friend in nearly every station town. That's not the problem--the problem is that this is 80s and AIDS is on the rise and every single one of his lady loves are cutting him off. At. The. Same. Time. Yes, I understand that the promiscuous life-style needed to come to a halt--or at least be reevaluated. But I find it hard to believe that all the ladies would decide during the same three-day period that this was a crisis. Campbell tries a little to hard to drive that point home in my opinion and repeats it once (or twice) too many times.
Overall, a solid mystery outing which fulfills the "Mode of Transportation" square on the Vintage Silver Bingo card.
[Oh...and one other thing. That cover picture is way too tame for what actually happened to Chaney. Not that I want to see a gory picture on the cover....]