World’s Greatest Sleuth!–Steve Hockensmith

“This, I realized, was what it would look like to go up against a killer who knew more about detectiving than we did–a professional as opposed to talented amateurs like ourselves.  If mystery solving’s truly a game, as Valmont had said at dinner the night before, then there was one conclusion I couldn’t escape.

We were out of our league.”~Otto Amlingmeyer

It’s 1893.  Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer find themselves convalescing at a Texas Angora ranch (well, Gustav is convalescing; Otto is going stir crazy) after the events of The Crack in the Lens.  Luckily, (for Otto) the downtime has been put to good use–his latest manuscript (being Gustav’s official biographer, Otto acts as a Watson like scribe–minus the doctoring) is finished and ready to be mailed to the New York publisher of their “Holmes on the Range” adventures–one Urias Smythe.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Urias Smythe has been busy, and when Otto heads to the local Western Union to submit his manuscript, he finds a missive from Smythe to hop the next iron horse to Chicago.  Urias has enrolled the brothers Amlingmeyer in a contest at the World’s Columbian Exposition, pitting their talents against other amateur detectives for the title of World’s Greatest Sleuth!

The game’s afoot.  Literally. 

Upon arrival in Chicago, the brothers meet the competition.  There’s King Brady, looking awfully spry, Eugene Valmont, former French policeman (mildly disgraced), Boothby Greene (Sherlock Holmes look-a-like if nothing else), and of course, the team of Diana Corvus (possible paramour?) and Col. C. Kermit Crowe (disgruntled former employer to the Amlingmeyers).  They’ve all been brought together for a publisher funded sleuth, a treasure hunt of sorts for amateur detectives.  Each day, the puzzlemaster, one Armstrong B. Curtis, will supply clues to each of the teams, and the first to bring him and William Pinkerton (son of Allan and judge of the event) a golden egg hidden on the grounds shall be declared that day’s winner.  At the end of the contest, the sleuth with the greatest skills, or at least the ability to solve word  puzzles, would be walk away with $10 000 and the aforementioned title.

Of course, nothing comes easy for the Amlingmeyers.  First of all, Gustav can’t read, so Otto’s along for the ride.  Secondly, Otto finds himself out of sorts seeing Diana Corvus once again.  Diana epitomizes the girl who got away, and she’s working with Crowe, a man who despises the Amlingmeyers.  Thirdly–she’s Crowe’s DAUGHTER!!  One final distraction: by the end of the first day, the puzzlemaster is found dead, face first in a giant wheel of Canadian Cheddar (World’s Largest, they say!).

From the start, Gustav had little patience for the contest, more concerned with justice for the dead than some silly riddles and a golden egg, and with the help of Diana, they’re on the trail of the killer, a killer who has all the skills of a world-class detective.

 Trailed by a never-ending series of bearded men (sinister, eh?), the brothers must compete for the prize, solve the murder and manage not to get killed, preferably in that order.

World’s Greatest Sleuth is the fifth and latest instalment in the Holmes on the Range series and a worthy addition.  If you like witty repartee, a decent mystery, and some historical relevance (such as a walk through the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition), then this tale of the cowboy detectives is right up your alley.

Steve Hockensmith maintains his own blog, aptly titled Steve’s Blog , where you can keep abreast of his latest exploits and browse his earlier works.

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The Crack In the Lens–Steve Hockensmith

“He knows who done it,” Old Red said.  “I’m sure of it.  All we gotta do is get him to say the name.”

“So find a way.  Another way.  Do it like Holmes would.  Use your brain.”

Gustav tried to spin away with the shears, but I managed to hold him in place.

“It’s Holmes brought us here!” he roared. “The Method ain’t workin’!”

“It’s what we got!”

 “It ain’t enough!”

The brothers Amlingmeyer are back in town!  That town being San Marcos, where Gustav once lived as a cow puncher, having loved and lost a girl named Adeleine.  She was a “soiled dove”, a working girl whose murder made less than any impact on the rough and tumble town, but plenty on the elder Amlingmeyer, who, having studied the “deducifying” ways of one Sherlock Holmes in the interim, has finally returned to town (his younger, and self-described, “handsomer” brother Otto in tow) to give her the justice she deserves.

San Marcos is not the town he remembers.  Proselytising bands of zealots roam the streets and law and order is the rule of the day.  Even the old whorehouse has been made over into a wallpaper shop.  Yet a good time is still to be had, those delving in the fleshly trade having been moved just outside city limits, beyond the reach of either God or his lawmen.

Yet lawmen are useless to the brothers Amlingmeyer.  Milford Bales, the local Marshal (and former friend of Gustav) wants them gone.  He has his own ideas as to what (or whom) befell Adeleine, and those suspicions fall (suspiciously) close to home.  Sheriff Rucker’s in the pocket of the pimps, Ragsdale and Bock, neither of whom wish the case to be re-opened.  Bad for business, you know.  Even Gustav is proving less than useful.  His normally well honed method has fallen by the wayside, and he himself is prone to conclusion jumping.  He’s off his game, and its going to take a clear head to sort things out.  Otto seems to have the only clear head around, so it’s up to him to step up and fill the position–before “Texas Jack” strikes again.

Once again, Steve Hockensmith delivers a tale full of quirky characters, from Brother Landrigan, leader of the local parish, an autonomous sect known as the Shepherd of the Hills Assembly of the Living God (whew!  That’s a mouthful), to big Bess, a whore whose name is a bit of an understatement.  Then there’s the Krieger’s, local librarians/death portrait photographers, and of course, Ragsdale and Bock, “honest” businessmen by day, the western equivalent of mobsters by night.

Gustav and Otto are also a  pair of characters, one the illiterate follower of the Holmesian method (and partial to big whiskers, ten gallon hats and angry mumbling), the other an aspiring author and gentleman with a quick wit and flair for things genteel.  A study in contrasts, Cowboy Holmes and a jovial Watson.  

The Crack in the Lens is the fourth novel in the Holmes on the Range series, and the least “Holmesian” of the bunch.  But that’s the point of the novel.  Gustav has lost “the method,” blinded by rage and grief and the desire for revenge, and it’s only when circumstances force him to follow the method that he’s able to recapture his rhythm and solve the crime(s).   I love a good mystery, especially a mystery where the culprit is not immediately identifiable, and in this, Hockensmith once again prevails.  An added twist, the addition of a Whitechapel connection, lends  a bit of intrigue to the novel.  Is Texas Jack a copycat, or the infamous Jack the Ripper, come to America to continue his spree in the relative anonymity of the open spaces of the West?

Another thing–generally, the rule of thumb when writing is to “show”, not “tell.”  But how does that work, when the narrator is telling a novel sized story?  In this case, pretty damn well.  Otto is not one for a lot of descriptive flair, but “tells” the story as if you were sitting around the campfire.  A lot of dialogue, not so much description.  That’s where the magic lies in a Hockensmith novel–witty banter rather than long-winded descriptions.

Steve Hockensmith is the author of the Holmes on the Range mysteries and both the prequel and sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  He maintains a blog at www.stevehockensmith.com.

Holmes on the Range revisited!

Wow, seems like only last week that I was re-directing interested readers to Steve Hockensmith’s blog to find their copy of the first Holmes on the Range short story featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers…wait…it was, wasn’t it?

At the time I was ecstatic to be able to read an original (to me, anyway) short story about Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red) Amlingmeyer and their adventures sleuthing in the old West.  Originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (if my contacts at Wikipedia are accurate), these stories have not been available to those without a subscription stretching back to 2003.  Having jumped on the Holmes on the Range chuckwagon only recently, I’d lamented ever getting a chance to complete the series.

Until now.  

After conducting a poll of his faithful readers as to what an anthology of Holmes on the Range stories should be called, the final version will be called, “Dear Mr. Holmes: Seven Holmes on the Range Mysteries.”

According to Steve’s post on the subject, the new anthology should be available as either an e-book or dead tree version sometime in March 2011.

Steve Hockensmith celebrates the Publication of World’s Greatest Sleuth with a gift to the fans.

Steve Hockensmith courtesy of Central Crime Zone

Okay, if you’ve come here today looking for a sneak peek of Steve Hockensmith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After, well, you’re about to be disappointed.  My best efforts to obtain an advanced copy to review have come to naught.  Something to do with Quirk not willing to ship to Canada, I think.  (I know, I know, I’m disappointed too!)  It’ll be published in late March (March 22, 2011 to be exact), so at least our mutual disappointment will be short-lived.

 
If you’re here and you’ve never heard of the Holmes on the Range series of mysteries, well then, SHAME ON YOU!  Run down to your local bookstore/library/computer and buy, borrow or download yourself copies of the entire series.  THE ENTIRE SERIES.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
 
However, if you’re here because you’re a fan of the Amlingmeyer brothers (Otto and Gustav) and their sleuthing adventures in latter part of the 19th century, well now, you’ve come across a bit of luck.  Just this past January the fifth book in the series, World’s Greatest Sleuth, was published, continuing the tale of brothers Big Red (Otto) and Old Red (Gustav), two cowboy/detectives with a penchant for trouble and a fascination with their compatriot from across the water, one Sherlock Holmes.
 
To celebrate the publication of this newest book, Hockensmith has decided to favour his fans with a little freebie, the first story featuring the brothers Amlingmeyer, dear-mr-holmes . 
 
You can also follow Steve’s musings and schedule at his blog site, www.stevehockensmith.com.