Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith
1893 is a tough year in Montana, and any job is a good job. When brothers Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer sign on as ranch hands at a secretive ranch, they’re not expecting much more than hard work, bad pay, and a few free moments to enjoy their favorite pastime: reading stories about Sherlock Holmes.
When another hand turns up dead, Old Red sees the perfect opportunity to employ his Holmes-inspired “deducifyin'” skills and sets out to solve the case. Big Red, like it or not (and mostly he does not), is along for the wild ride in this clever, compelling, and completely one-of-a-kind mystery. (via Goodreads)
Earlier in the year, I had high hopes for a Western about two brothers. That one didn’t work out for me. The Sisters Brothers is a fairly literary work and, to be honest, I like my fiction more on the genre side of things.
To me, genre is a set of plot-related tropes. Story consumers of all types know the tropes, and story producers aim to create narratives that use the tropes as faithfully or creatively as needed. Genre is somewhat separate from setting, but many genre categories can be settings as well. “Western” (like “science fiction” and “fantasy”) can be either. If you put Western tropes in a science fiction setting, you end up with something like Firefly. Other genre categories are really only genres; “mystery” is one of those. Mystery has enough flexibility in its tropes to go anywhere. Holmes on the Range is a great Western set mystery.
I put Holmes on the Range on me TBR list during one of my Holmesathons. For some reason, I was under the impression that it directly features Holmes—that this books partially filled in his Great Hiatus. (I have a cover blurb mental block, I swear.) It is not.
Instead, this is the story of two brother Otto (Big Red) and Gustav (Old Red) Amlingmeyer. Big Red, despite his size and obvious physical cow-hand traits, is the educated of the two, the Watson of the story. Old Red, who has been relegated since early life to labor, is illiterate but loves hearing the stories of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Old Red casts himself into Holmes’ mold and aims to solve the murders at the Bar VR ranch.
The relationship between the brothers isn’t always sunshine and light, but there is steadfast loyalty between them which rings true considering their backstory. Hockensmith also does a really good job with time-period slang. Slang can be distracting, but the narrative here is seamlessly in Otto’s voice. The plot is a solid mystery with pleanty of nod to Holmes stories.
I highly recommend Holmes on the Range. It’s the beginning of a series; I’m looking forward to reading the others.
Publishing info, my copy: Trade Paperback, St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2006
Acquired: Book Mooch (I believe)