On The Wrong Track (2007) by Steve Hockensmith

Into the next fifty posts and it’s time for the letter O in the Alphabet of Crime Fiction and to finally meet another of the inspirations for this blog, namely Steve Hockensmith.

Hockensmith is the writer of a bunch of short stories and five novels featuring Old Red and Big Red, two ranch hands in the Old West with
aspirations of bigger things. Old Red is illiterate but intelligent, and, after having been read Sherlock Holmes stories from the Strand magazine, decides that he can do this detecting business as well. They first appear in Holmes on the Range, and, fresh from their success therein, decide to try and become professional investigators. In On The Wrong Track, they finally find work as railway detectives on the Pacific Express, only to find a murderer on board and a gang of outlaws waiting for them down the line.

As in the Sherlock Holmes stories, these are narrated, in this case by the literate Big Red, as he helps his brother in the investigation of the murders (one of which involves a head bouncing under the railroad car, only spotted as Old Red was being violently trainsick over the side). Unlike
the Holmes stories, this is a proper whodunit, with clues presented fairly. Much more importantly, this book simply sparkles. It’s funny, exciting, extremely well-written, everything you could ask for from a detective novel and
then some. It might even go some way to ticking that “decent historical mystery” box that I’ve been struggling with were it not for the slight conceit that this is a world where apparently Sherlock Holmes is real (not that he turns up, mind you). Does that disqualify it as a historical novel? Or does the Old West not
count as historical enough?

Anyway, I’m not going to burble on about this one for fear of spoiling it. Go and get it (and read Holmes on the Range first as well). This is a top-class read. If you’re not hooked by the end of the first chapter, I’ll eat my hat.


  1. I had never heard of this author until you blogged about him (seem to be saying that a lot lately), so thanks very much (ditto). Will have to try and fit in some extra reading time during these bank holidays …


  2. I read Holmes on the Range and thought it was a brilliant transference of the Holmesian story to the Western United States of the same era.

    My wife, older son and myself had the chance to hear Steve M.C. and speak at a trio of authors presentation at the M is for Mystery bookstore in San Mateo. He is an engaging and interesting man.


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