Detectifying with the Amlingmeyers

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If you haven’t read Steve Hockensmith, you’re in for a treat. I like his work, particularly the “Holmes on the Range” series, for so many reasons.

First, I admire a writer who can do many different things well. He writes kids’ books – short stories – Old West mysteries – literary horror/humor … all with panache. Who else can make such a claim to fame?

But I particularly enjoy the “Holmes on the Range” books, set in the Wild West of the late 1800s, in which Old Red Amlingmeyer is so inspired by Sherlock Holmes that he decides that he, too, will become a brilliant detectifier, deducifier, and conjecturator. Why?

  • I love the playfulness and zest of the language. If you can’t have some fun while writing, why do it? In these books, I see the fun Hockensmith is having – and it translates into pure enjoyment for the reader. The “Holmes” series takes you back to the Old West as it may never have been, or at least as you’ve seen it on TV, and plays with the conventions while spinning¬†a darn good yarn.
  • I admire his denouements. So many mysteries, just by virtue of being mysteries, have to end with a chapter or two on who did it and why. Nothing wrong with that, of course; but Hockensmith goes out with a bang, not a lot of verbiage. Check out On the Wrong Track for a particularly pulse-pounding climax.
  • I enjoy the relationship between his two heroes — Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer and brother Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer. Odd couple, sidekicks, Laurel and Hardy, each other’s best friend and biggest critic, one man of too few words and the other man of too many — the Amlingmeyer brothers have it all. I don’t always have strong visions of characters when I read, but I see Old and Big as clear as day. By the way, “Old” Red is under 30, which I guess makes me “Ancient” (but best not to dwell on ¬†that). But the books have great women, too — ladies who are ahead of their time, on the vanguard of modern womanhood, and who can more than hold their own.

I have to give props to the book designers, too. The hand lettering on the covers is beautiful, and I can feel adventure emanating from them, beckoning me to turn to the first page. Even the interior designs have that oh-so-appealing mixture of pastiche + respect for the Western tradition and mystery genre.