Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith is the first of a series of mysteries set in the Old West featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers Old Red and Big Red (aka Gustav and Otto).
The brothers aren’t big drinkers or card players but Big Red is lucky enough to know how to read and tell a great story, and whenever they can find an issue of Harper’s Weekly, Otto reads the Sherlock Holmes stories out loud for his brother.
The famous detective’s adventures inspire Old Red to do some serious sleuthing of his own.
Their first case starts with a death that appears to be caused by a stampede but is really a murder case involving the wealthy and well-connected British family that own the Bar VR ranch in Montana. As the story unfolds the brothers get in a heap of trouble and make some dangerous enemies.
A distinct lack of law and order
If you’ve read my previous reviews you already know that I love novels set in the old American West. I love to read the stories of hardy and hard-working people making a life in rough circumstances while facing the challenges of the landscape (and frequently a distinct lack of law and order).
Hockensmith’s book incorporates all of those features and then adds in the trappings of a great detective novel. Suspense and intrigue abound as Old Red hunts for clues and follows leads to solve what turn out to be several murders on the Bar VR. Through it all Big Red is a hilarious narrator and assistant, keeping up a steady stream of witty commentary on their circumstances.
There are now five novels featuring the Amlingmeyers, and I’ve read three of them. (See the full list on Goodreads.) Big Red becomes something of a Dr. John Watson to his brother’s Sherlock: putting their adventures in writing and sending their stories to magazines for publication. There are train robberies, mysterious women, and gunfights in every story, and through all of it the brothers remain steadfastly loyal to each other. Each book is just as good as the first, and they are easily read out of order if you must, so don’t worry if you have to skip ahead to On the Wrong Track or The Black Dove.
About Jen Hinderer
Jen Hinderer is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.