Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer has finally had some of his stories published – biographical adventures of his brother, Gustav aka “Old Red” aka “Holmes On The Range”, so he and his brother can’t refuse when his publisher summons them to Chicago. The Pinkerton Agency, due to the death of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, is holding a competition to determine the “World’s Greatest Sleuth!” and the boys are invited. Well, they are the only detectives published in their particular magazine that aren’t fictional, but that’s besides the point.
They find themselves up against the best the world has to offer – including an English detective who bears a striking resemblance to someone who’s supposed to be dead. But when one of organisers turns up dead, suffocated in a vat of cheddar, Gustav smells a rat. And horse excrement…
This is the point in my posts where I teasingly query if the book’s any good or not. No point in doing that here – it’s a Holmes On The Range book, which should answer that question nicely.
In case it doesn’t answer the question, the book is absolutely terrific, like the rest of the series. The voice of the narrator, Big Red, is an absolute treat and there’s an added conceit here that people he meets have read his previous work – in particular, his love-interest Diana, which causes him to be overly discreet whenever he mentions her. Of course, it’s not actual discreet if you point this out, but that’s Big Red for you.
I think it’s fair to say that you know if you’re going to enjoy this book by reading the dramatis personae – this includes four distinct mystery men, referred to (both here and in the book) as THE BEARDED MAN, THE OTHER BEARDED MAN (aka THE UNBEARDED MAN), THE OTHER OTHER BEARDED MAN and ANOTHER OTHER OTHER BEARDED MAN. What’s more, these are all relevant to the plot – it’s not just a joke. But it is demonstrative of the style of humour – very funny but never silly – rest assured, this is a proper mystery novel, it just happens to force you to read it with a silly grin on your face.
The mystery itself is decent enough, although I’d be impressed if anyone actually worked it out, and the motive is pretty hard to spot until the last minute, but to be honest, I didn’t particularly care, I was enjoying the book so much.
It’s worth pointing out that you really should read the series in order to get the most out of it. They are a little tricky to get hold of, but I can recommend, if you’re a Kindle reader, trying out for Dear Mr Holmes, a collection of seven short stories – only a couple of quid. I’ve read a few of them in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and they should give you an idea if this is your cup of tea or not.
So, in case I wasn’t clear – recommended in the highest possible fashion.
Oh, and check out Steve Hockensmith’s website. Very entertaining.