Holmes On The Range by Steve Hockensmith

“Some folks get religion. Gustav got Sherlock Holmes.”

Holmes On The RangeBrothers Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer – aka Big Red and Old Red – aren’t your typical cowboys. Apart from their red hair, Otto can actually read. But his illiterate brother has his own talents – or at least he thinks he does – deducifying things, just like his hero Sherlock Holmes, an admiration built by the few stories that have made it into Otto’s hands, which he reads to his brother.

A chance job leads them to join a crew at the Bar VR ranch, and an opportunity for Old Red to practise his skills. A stampede tramples on of the ranchers into a pool of goo, but Old Red has his suspicions, suspicions that are confirmed when another worker is found shot to death, locked inside the toilet. Something is rotten in the Bar VR and only someone with the skills of Holmes himself can get to the bottom of it. But is Old Red that man?

Well, we’ve made it to the septicenntenial review for the blog (well, that might be the word for 700th) and it’s about time I got round to Holmes On The Range. Why? Because once upon a time, I named two books that set the blog off in the first place. Once was Geek Tragedy by Nev Fountain and the other was Holmes On The Range. Geek Tragedy was one of my first reviews. And for some reason, it’s taken me over five and a half to get round to this one.

And it’s a work of genius, this one. How can I start praising it?

The voice – it’s narrated by Otto – is perfect. Just enough humour to keep the reader entertained while never over-stepping the line into distracting from the peril our heroes are in. It’s a tale full of heart as well, where with just a few well-spoken lines, the background of our heroes’ lives leading up to this tale is revealed piece by piece, showing the strong bond between the brothers.

The mystery chugs along nicely as well. It’s no Sherlock Holmes knock-off, as we get to see things like clues, for example, but puts a nice spin on the Holmes idea by having it set in a world where Holmes was real, and Watson’s tales were real-life crime tales. And if you check the dates carefully, you can work out which period in Holmes’ life the book is set in, which adds an extra dimension for the ultra-suspicious reader. Oh, and one of the lead characters came off second best in the case known as The Noble Bachelor. And he doesn’t fare much better here… And I found the revelation of the killer to be a genuine surprise, despite one of the oldest tricks in the book being used.

This is the first of five novels in the Holmes On The Range series, with a set of short stories, Dear Mr Holmes, also available as an ebook. Unfortunately in the UK, some of the prices, even for ebooks are rather steep, but you can get them pretty cheaply second hand. I mentioned in a comment on The Verdict Of Us All’s post over at Cross Examining Crime that I hoped that there would be a sixth book in the series – well, Steve Hockensmith has vaguely mentioned research for another book, so fingers crossed it’ll be along one day…

Anyway, that’s 700 book reviews out of the way. Better get working on reading Book 701…

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