February 14, 2011

BOOKS: World's Greatest Sleuth!, Steve Hockensmith (2010)

Fifth volume in the Holmes on the Range mystery series.

Gustav ("Old Red") and Otto ("Big Red") Amlingmeyer find themselves in Chicago this time, for the1893 Columbian Exposition. With the recent publication of the final Sherlock Holmes story, in which Dr. Watson reports the death of Holmes, several magazine publishers have come together for a "World's Greatest Sleuth" contest; each has a detective whose exploits they publish, and each wants his detective to be given the de facto title of successor to Holmes.

The big city is alien territory to the brothers, but they agree to take part in the competition, which consists of a series of daily scavenger hunts with riddles for clues. This isn't real sleuthing, Gustav grumbles, but when one of the publishers turns up dead, the Amlingmeyers and their rivals suddenly have a real mystery on their hands.

The other detectives Hockensmith has created are a delightful assortment of characters. There's a stuffy Brit who naturally considers himself the only true heir to Holmes, an eccentric Frenchman who comes across as sort of a precursor to Hercule Poirot (yes, I know, Poirot was Belgian, not French), a street-smart New York private eye, and (returning from earlier volumes) the lovely Diana Corvus, working with a partner whom Gustav and Otto are not so happy to see.

As always in this series, Hockensmith does a marvelous job of giving us interesting historical details, and Big Red's narrative voice has just enough hint of the period to feel accurate without being so archaic as to be impenetrable. The style is light and breezy, with an entertaining mix of suspense and humor. The mystery is compelling, and the red herrings are cleverly deployed. This is another solid entry in an absolutely charming series.

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