World’s Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith

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.

I’m counting this as part of the Historical Fiction Challenge and the North American part of the Global Reading Challenge, as it’s set in my favourite city of the USA.


  1. […] In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Spoiler Free Reviews of Fair Play Detective Fiction Skip to content HomeAbout the authorPaul DohertyHugh CorbettThe Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother AthelstanAmerotke, Chief Judge of ThebesThe Journals of Roger ShallotThe Canterbury TalesThe Ancient Rome MysteriesMathilde of WestminsterAlexander The GreatKathryn SwinbrookeOther Historical MysteriesAlys ClareAriana FranklinSteve HockensmithMichael JecksBernard KnightPeter TremayneEllery QueenSir Henry Merrivale ← Endeavour – Pilot – TV Review World’s Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith → […]


  2. I liked HOLMES ON THE RANGE quite a bit. The sentiments you express about the series as a whole I can more or less agree with. My review of it also contains one of my personal favourite disclaimers about the use of the pronoun “he” to describe the killer:

    “(Remember that I use “he” merely out of convenience, and the killer could quite easily be a man, a woman, or as an outside bet, a three-legged chicken.)”

    Thank you for making me feel guilty right after I’ve finished the newest Paul Halter book. Slight problem… I don’t have any of his stuff on a shelf and will have to pass on to someone else! And by the end of the weekend for all we know, I could be singing the praises of obscure author George Van Hooligan (who despite being a figment of my imagination, managed to have a fantastic writing career) and start a craze similar to the mess you started over Paul Doherty. 🙂


    • Well, there are unfortunately only five of these – shame they’re not more readily available. Methinks I need to drop some hints about the series into my review of tomorrow night’s Sherlock.


  3. I’ve read only the first book in this series, but knew I’d had a great find. (Holmes on the Range was on of my top five mysteries of 2011.) I’m glad to know the quality continues!


    • It certainly does. To be absolutely honest, the first one is probably, if memory serves, the best mystery – The Crack In The Lens comes close though – but all five are absolutely cracking reads, as are – so far – the short stories.


  4. I never read anything from this writer, but your description of this book is tempting me. It sounds like one of those detective-get-togethers from Case Closed/Detective Conan!

    By the way, I have never forgiven myself for not picking up a copy of George van Hooligan’s The Singular Problem of the Brass Basilisk. I thought he was just an unknown, second-tier writer, but Patrick informed me that it was a stunning impossible crime novel – centering on the decapitation of a ghost hunter in the locked dungeons of an abandoned fortress, ghostly apparitions on the battlements and the temporary disappearance of an entire, crumbled down tower!


    • Don’t bother with Brass Basilisk – it involves a big trapdoor, so it cheats.

      As for the get-together, I’m sure I missed some of the references. There’s the PI who solves crimes with his fists who I think is based on Nick Carter – he’s mentioned as not attending due to being fictional, the british Holmes-type, an OTT Frenchman – it’s too early for Poirot, so not sure who he’s supposed to be and a couple of long-time supporting characters who I don’t think are supposed to be homages to anyone.

      It’s a lot of fun, but I would start with Holmes on the Range as the first book. Very tempted to read it again myself, to be honest.


      • Thanks, Doc! You just put an image in my head of an enormous, crumbled down castle tower being dropped through the biggest trapdoor ever made and the murderer, dressed in a white sheet with two holes, saying, “TADAA,” as the detective slowly backs away.

        Poirot is Belgian, not French! Anyway, the French detective could be either Joseph Rouletabille or Monsieur Lecoq (never read any stories with him in it, though).


    • I was thinking of a variant of a Paul Halter trick and having a symmetric castle, but I think you’d have to be pretty think not to have noticed that the tower that everyone knew wasn’t there had suddenly reappeared at the same time as another had vanished… More thought needed.


  5. Here’s a possible, if unlikely, answer to the conundrum of the dissipating tower: it was a crumbling tower that was part of a rundown, abandoned fortress. What if the tower had collapsed years ago and it was “rebuild” by re-erecting four fragments of its original walls and during the night these were pulled down – and disposed off. The fortress could be location of an archeological dig, funded by a millionaire searching for the titular Brass Basilisk (a valuable family heirloom that was lost in the middle ages), and stone remnants of the walls were dumped in a dig and covered up.

    Why would anyone go to such lengths to make a tower appear and disappear? Elementary, my dear Watson’s! The millionaire was betrayed by the very men (or some of them) that were hired for this archeological excavation. Once the millionaire had roughly located where the Basilisk was buried they understood the exact location and put up the walls to confuse the others over the location. But when an impossible murder was committed and a famous detective began meddling in their business, they panicked and tore down the walls during the night.

    Hey, it’s better than the trapdoor or tower-sized mirror. 😉


  6. OK, here’s a solution to make a castle tower temporarily disappear, but I can’t motivate this action to make it acceptable, but here it goes:

    The disappearance of the tower is notice by a group of people who are on their way to the fortress, after dark, but when cross over the drawbridge and into the court the tower has suddenly reappeared.

    Solution: the tower was temporarily covered with huge black piece of tarp and when the party of people walked over the drawbridge, their view was temporarily obscured during which the tarp was removed.

    What do you think of that, Doc?

    (by the way, this is why I love impossible crime stories)


    • I wonder… if the people were some distance from the tower, maybe it’s an unhappy accident of something else going on – if something vaguely tower-shaped and black – secret stealth rocket? – interposed itself and the tower “vanishes” by a trick of the light… I think you’d need a single observer for this one though, as you’d need a pretty distinct eye-line.

      I’ve seen stupider coincidences in books…

      It might be easier to pull off deliberately if the observer was in a diagonally opposite tower viewing events through an arrow slit. That limits the point of view at least, but I really can’t see why anyone would want to trick someone this way, apart from the old “drive them mad” chestnut.

      The other way is the old “two castles, one with a tower and one without” trick, but that might be a bit hard to pull off…


  7. I’ve read this book too. Your explanation, TomCat, isn’t right – though it worked for David Copperfield when he made the Statue of Liberty “vanish” (with a little added “lighting” that echoed John Dickson Carr’s Captain Cutthroat. The Puzzle Doctor is closer though, by describing the trick as “a trapdoor”, he has clearly not read the mystery carefully enough and is probably going solely by Anthony Boucher’s less than favourable review.

    I’ll give you a clue though the brass basilisk, otherwise known as Queen Elizabeth’s pocket pistol, was not an ornament but a sixteenth century cannon, which can still be seen today at Dover Castle ( – Dover Castle is of course the castle that O’Hooligan based his castle on. was


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