Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

It's always fun to see other writers play with the ideas created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all those years ago. Some, like Laurie King, opt to use Holmes himself as a side character. Others try to write a book that fits neatly into the cannon.

In the case of Holmes on the Range, Hockensmith tries a different tack, and it works surprisingly well. Our story involves two cowboys who are down on their luck that get a job at a ranch that might not be all that it seems.

They're basically told to stay out of things, but that's not in the nature of Old Red Amlingmeyer, an avid reader of...The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Soon Old Red and his brother Big Red are doing "deducifyin'," whether the rest of the ranch hands want them to or not. Can they solve the crime before someone makes them stop permanently?

This is a fun variation on the Holmes script. Big Red, like Watson, narrates the adventure and is an often reluctant participant in the proceedings. His brother has an eye for detail, but he's nowhere near as arrogant as his idol and also not quite as good at staying out of trouble.

Hockensmith writes a book that features two men who are aware of how good Holmes is, and one who wants to emulate him. That doesn't mean they're perfect at it. In fact, just like Hockensmith might tell you he's not as good a writer as Doyle, the characters know they aren't going to be as good as the master detective. It's a conceit that might not work in other hands, but Hockensmith pulls it off in a convincing fashion.

Plus, his mystery is not too shabby. We're given a few likely suspects, but solving the crime will take more than just suspicion. After all, how can two drifters looking for a job be trusted? Getting over prejudice and finding a way to make things right give the plot some extra twists and turns. Plus, by the time we get to the end, unlike an 19th Century story, the crime itself is far more complicated.

I liked Holmes on the Range a great deal, and I need to get around to reading more by Hockensmith. If you're a mystery fan that likes the Holmes mythos or Westerns, give this a try. I think you'll be glad you did.

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