Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Steve Hockensmith, The Crack in the Lens: A Holmes on the Range Mystery

Steve Hockensmith, The Crack in the Lens: A Holmes on the Range Mystery
© 2009 Steve Hockensmith
Minotaur Books 2009
ISBN   978-0312379421
Also available as an ebook.

Looking through my library of ebooks, I realized I had not kept up with the adventures of the Amlingmeyer brothers, Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red), and decided it was time to see what they were up to.  And, apparently, they were about to be lynched.  That’s how The Crack in the Lens begins.

The Amlingmeyers are a pair of somewhat down-at-the-heels cowboys; Gustav is a devotee of the Sherlock Holmes stories (which Otto has to read to him), and Otto is an aspiring writer of detective fiction (although his tales are based on their own adventures, and on Gustav’s use of Holmesian techniques.  They are in the town of San Marcos, Texas, at Gustav’s insistence—he wants to discover the truth about the death of Adeline, the women he loved (and lost) five years earlier.  But things have changed in San Marcos, if only (to some extent) superficially.  Five years earlier, in 1888, it was a wide open cattle town, complete with saloons and prostitutes and all the accompanying features of a cattle town.  Now, there’s a church (or several), and all the bawdy houses have been moved out into the county (even if just barely).  There’s even a wallpaper store (and, yes, this maters).

Old Red’s search for information about Adeline does not go well, and the owners of the place she worked (who now own the just-across-the-line bawdy house) are not pleased to see either of the boys.  In fact, it becomes very dangerous.  In their search, they encounter the Kreigers (Mr. Kreiger is the only photographer in town, with something of a specialization in death portraits); Milford Bales, formerly a barber, now the town Marshall; Sheriff Ike Rucker (the law then, now the law outside town); Horace Cuff (editor and publisher of the local newspaper, and transplanted Brit); Brother Landrigan (the local hellfire and-brimstone preacher); and assorted cowboys, goat ranchers, thugs, and fallen women.  Oh—Otto learns that his first book has actually been published!

Despite a rather broad overlay of humor, this is a fairly dark book, and there’s a good deal of violence and death before we reach the finale.  The story moves quickly, though, and the ending is logical (which, given Gustav’s veneration for Holmes, is just as well) and generally satisfactory.  If you have not made the acquaintance of the Amlingmeyers, I encourage you to do so (although starting at the beginning might be best, the books stand quite well on their own).  Next up in the series is World’s Greatest Sleuth!; there are also a number of short stories that I still need to find—and will be looking for.

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