RETURNING TO A THRILLING MYSTERY OF YESTERYEAR: HUNTERS OF THE DEAD BY STEVE HOCKENSMITH
Steve Hockensmith's Holmes On The Range series has rightly earned a devoted following. The books follow the adventures of two cowboys, Big Red Amlingmyer , the narrator, and Old Red, his illiterate but sharp older brother who dreams of being a detective like his hero Sherlock Holmes. it's been some time since the two solved a case, but Hockensmith has returned with Hunters Of The Dead, serving up everything we love about the series and more.
The boys are assigned by the A.A. Western Detective Agency for their client, Professor Pertwee, the maker of a health miracle nut butter. The Professor has invested part of his fortune in paleontology and his crew are digging up dinosaur fossils outside the town of Wamsutter, Wyoming and they need guards for the valuable finds. Amylinger brothers are annoyed being put on a simple guard duty with little need of applying Old Red's deductive skills, but soon the body of one of the bone hunters is found. The site site and area prove a perfect backdrop for a Holmes On The Range western mystery with a list of suspects in a territory full of rival bone hunters, bandits, and as one fellow A.,A. agent cites as the most cutthroat, academics.
The setting also proves fertile ground for the way Hockensmith utilizes research. The well placed facts and historical details build his worlds inside the larger western one as well provide possible clues and a misdirection or two. . You get a sense of the scientists and others on the dig and how they work. It also sets up the stakes and danger. Hockensmith creates an authenticity that becomes tactile on the page.
He also creates a genre alchemy. The western tropes blend effortlessly with the whodunnit plot. The gun and fist fights fit with the detective work and is told in a thrilling manner that owes some of its voice to the magazine stories of the period. There is also a great application of humor whether internal with Big Red's commentary on the adventure or external with the bantering and bickering with his brother . Everything I've praised can be read in a passage when the two visit Dirty Dan's Water Trough, a saloon where the owner keeps his pigs inside so they don't get stolen.
A writers care for his work binds this alchemy. It's obvious Steve loves these genres, The Amlingmyer brothers, and the peculiar range they ride through, sering them well. No corners cut, no detail ignored. Not only does he return to the series without a false beat, he delivers one of the best books in it.