Review by Chris Redmond
Steve Hockensmith's "Holmes on the Range" saga, featuring cowboy detectives Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer, is in its fifth volume now, and the Sherlockian content is running thin. Fortunately, "Old Red" and "Big Red," as they are nicknamed, can do pretty well on their own. The characters are still amusing, Otto's wink-wink narrative style and Watsonian obtuseness still work, and Hockensmith is still capable of structuring mystery plots that make sense without dragging in either supernatural agencies or Victorian celebrities.
In this latest volume he does, however, drag in something that is in danger of becoming almost as much of a cliché as Aleister Crowley or Beatrice Webb in Sherlockian narratives. The adventure is set in Chicago in the fall of 1893, which of course means that it is set at the World's Columbian Exposition — first of the great world's fairs, and the event that gave birth to the Midway, the hamburger, the ferris wheel, and hootchie-kootchie. Enthusiasts of Victorian murder have paid it close attention in recent years, mostly because of Erik Larson's 2003 book The Devil in the White City. Inevitably, the Amlingmeyer brothers are drawn into crime and mystery at the fair, and Hockenmeyer creates the opportunity to deliver one of the finest lines in all the universe of Sherlockian parody:
“Is that what I think it is?” “Yes, miss. It is,” my brother said with a sigh. “So long as you think it's a dead feller facedown in cheddar.”
To quote Gene Wilder in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother”: “The clue obviously lies in the word ‘cheddar’.”
Big Red says at one point that “This was what our lives looked like, thanks to Sherlock Holmes,” He and his brother play what might be considered the roles of Watson and Holmes in dealing with the White City murder, and some of the world's other leading detectives are represented in the unfolding events as well. However, the connections are tenuous, and effective with this volume, it can be called entirely reasonable for Sherlockian collectors to pass over the “Holmes on the Range” mysteries. Sherlockian readers, however, should not do the same — at least not if they like well-narrated mystery novels and have a sense of humour.