September 04, 2009

BOOKS: The Crack in the Lens, Steve Hockensmith (2009)

Fourth in the Amlingmeyer Brothers mystery series.

Love, says Sherlock Holmes, is the crack in the lens; it distorts one's perceptions and keeps one from being truly objective about anything. And it's the memory of past love that is at the heart of this installment in Hockensmith's fine series.

The brothers are more financially flush than usual, Otto having actually sold some of his Dr. Watson-style stories about the "deducifying" triumphs of his big brother, Gustav, who is a devotee of Sherlock Holmes. Gus decides that they will go to San Marcos, Texas, where he had been a ranch hand a few years earlier (before the events of the first book in the series), in hopes of applying his talents to solving the murder of his only true love.

That won't be easy, because Adeline was murdered five years ago (making this book sort of a Cold Case: Old West), and even when the case was fresh, local law enforcement didn't get too worked up over the death of a prostitute. It turns out, though, that Adeline was only the first in a series of such murders, all of them working at the same bawdy house, and there are bizarre hints that the murders may be connected to one of the world's most famous serial killers.

As always in this series, Hockensmith provides a fine array of colorful suspects and an entertaining puzzle to be solved. Otto's narration has enough period flavor to be convincing without being so period as to be unpleasant or difficult reading. (A running joke in which Otto, cognizant of his readers' delicate sensibilities, tidies up the bad guys' worst language by using "fudge" instead of that other f-word gets pounded into the ground, though, in one of Hockensmith's rare comic missteps.)

There's even a cliffhanger of sorts this time, involving Gustav's health; I expect that will be resolved in the opening paragraphs of the next installment, to which I'm already looking forward with great anticipation. This is one of the best mystery series of the decade.

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