It’s my bad luck to start reading Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series, about two cowpokes who solve crimes in the Old West using the methods of Sherlock Holmes, just when the characters temporarily abandon “deducifyin’.”
In The Crack in the Lens, Gustav Amlingmeyer, or “Old Red,” and his brother Otto, “Big Red,” have ambled into San Marcos, Texas, to solve the murder five years earlier of Adeline, a woman whose virtue could be easily bought and for whom Old Red had fallen in love. It’s 1893 and the math is important.
Of course, Holmes is not forgotten with many references and parallels to the Great Detective. For instance, Big Red has taken to chronicling his brother adventures and has even made a sale to a pulp magazine, so he is the Watson of the duo. Old Red has assumed the mantle of the detective, despite being hampered by his lack of book learning, and I am sure in the previous three books (that I am sure to read), he displays his deducifyin’ skills aplenty. In this book, however, he’s filled with a determination to see that Adeline’s killer is brought to justice and quite often that determination gives way to rage.
The rage is understandable, but of course the timing is not. Even Big Red is confused why his brother took five years to pursue Adeline’s killer, which is explained by Old Red saying he had to wait until he had properly absorbed Holmes’ methods and that he was too upset as her death coincided with the death of their parents. In fact, it was five years previous that he took his brother out on the trail with him.
The trail leads them into many tangles with the law, the former/current brothel owners, two brushes with the noose, explosions, the loss of so many weapons I lost count and goats. Along the way, they find that Adeline’s murder was just the first.
I confess I have some fond memories of San Marcos, it being between San Antonio where I grew up and Austin where I went to college. I can easily imagine it being a town at this time shedding its Wild West antecedents and looking forward to the new century. So I found The Crack in the Lens an easy and fast read, although I had to keep A Prairie Home Companion’s Dusty and Lefty out of my head. I was further charmed by the characters accidentally or intentionally playing the Great Game, the conceit that Holmes and Watson were real and Arthur Conan Doyle merely Watson’s literary agent.
The story ends on a troubling note and some doubt whether Old Red will be able to resume his role as detective, and that can only mean there’s another book where he will. Towards the end of the book, Old Red has taken to returning to Holmes’ method, including a nice passage where he examines a crime scene with Sherlockian scrutiny. I take that as a further sign the series will continue.
And two little asides: the chapter titles and initial caps are nicely done and those are lost in the Kindle version, which is a shame for it is a good looking book. I might also add that you may be confused because of Darlene Cypser’s similarly titled book, which examines a young Sherlock Holmes. I was searching for her book when I ordered Hockensmith’s from the library.