April 08, 2007

BOOKS: On the Wrong Track, Steve Hockensmith (2007)

Second in the Amlingmeyer Brothers mystery series.

Gustav ("Old Red") and Otto ("Big Red") Amlingmeyer are cowboys in the wild west of the 1890s, but Gustav has taken a liking to the Sherlock Holmes stories that occasionally appear in the popular magazines of the day, and he's begun to think that "detectifying" would be a much more satisfying way to make a living. There aren't a lot of job opportunities for would-be detectives, though, especially those with limited education, and the boys are forced to sign on as railroad detectives with the Southern Pacific.

Cowboys and railroads don't get along well under the best of circumstances, and Gustav has other reasons to be less than enthusiastic about the job, but there they are on the Pacific Express, hoping for a chance to catch the "Give-'em-Hell Boys." But before those bandits even show up, there's a murder on board, and Gustav and Otto are pressed into service.

There's a colorful array of suspects, and Hockensmith does a fine job of providing unexpected twists along the way. He manages the tricky feat of being realistic about period attitudes toward women and ethnic minorities without allowing those attitudes to be too offensive to modern-day readers, mainly by allowing Gustav and Otto to be relatively enlightened for their era. The dialogue and narration (Otto tells the story, serving as Dr. Watson to Gustav's Holmes) have enough period flavor to feel authentic without drowning the reader in archaic slang.

A solid successor to Holmes on the Range, and both books are worthwhile if you're in the mood for a charming light mystery.

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