Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: ‘On the Wrong Track’ by Steve Hockensmith

Book cover: "On the Wrong Track," a "Holmes on the Range Mystery," by Steve Hockensmith
Advance praise by author Steve Hockensmith for Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz put me in mind to re-read Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range.

Holmes on the Range tells the story of Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer in frontier America, patterning himself after magazine-story detective Sherlock Holmes. To his brother Otto, “Big Red,” falls Dr. Watson’s task of chronicling the detective’s exploits.

A search of my library’s online catalog revealed the presence of a new (for me) adventure, On the Wrong Track (St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2007).

On the Wrong Track picks up where Holmes on the Range left off, with “Old Red” and “Big Red” seeking employment as Pinkerton detectives. The pair are hired as undercover operatives by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The trip begins poorly -- “Old Red” is motion-sick -- and quickly goes from bad to worse with the abrupt appearance of a decapitated body. “Old Red” and “Big Red” must piece together a mystery that involves railroad bandits, mysterious cargo and passengers traveling with secrets.

Holmes on the Range and its sequel, On the Wrong Track, offer an inventive and unique approach to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. A particular delight is the wild-west flavor that “Old Red” brings to the science of deduction: “detectifyin,’” he calls it. A touching subplot to On the Wrong Track involves “Big Red’”s reluctance to submit for publication his account of their earlier exploit.

Hockensmith’s books are also a tribute and testimonial to the power of stories: “Old Red” teaches himself a detective’s skills through his brother reading aloud whatever Holmes tales they can find on the frontier. From their original chance encounter with “The Red-Headed League,” “Old Red” and “Big Red” are reinventing themselves.

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