Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters
Cons: Plot slows down a bit at times
The Bottom Line:
Uneven pacing
In this Western mystery yarn
But still worth reading

Tracking a Killer Through Chinatown

Trouble just seems to follow brothers Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer (Old Red and Big Red respectively) wherever they go. The first two books in the series have found them dealing with murder and mayhem on a ranch and as detectives for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Now, it is the summer of 1893 and the two are about to find themselves in the middle of another mess in the Chinatown district of San Francisco in The Black Dove.

A chance encounter with Dr. Chan, a friend from their adventure on the South Pacific, revels he is quite nervous about something. In fact, he shoots at Big Red before realizing who he is. So when Chan turns up dead the next morning, Old Red doesn't buy the suicide pronouncement.

Since Dr. Chan lived in the heart of Chinatown, finding out what really happened to him won't be easy. The residences don't trust white men. Their only clue is "The Black Dove." Will that and Old Red's devotion to Sherlock Holmes be enough to find out what happened to Dr. Chan?

I enjoy a book historical novel because it allows me to experience another time without having to read a dry textbook. And this book did just that for me. I felt like I was there along with Old Red and Big Red tramping through a San Francisco of another time.

And the story was good, too. It started strong and quickly pulled me in, wondering what exactly had happened to Dr. Chan. The story did drag a couple times in the middle, but it was never long before the action picked up again. The climax made everything worth while.

Old Red and Big Red are absolutely fun to be around. They're constant bickering is funny, but you can tell they do care about each other. There are some other absolutely hilarious bits, but I'm not going to spoil those for you here. Still, the overall tone of the book is serious. This isn't a comic novel but a serious novel with some funny parts.

One reason I enjoy Old Red and Big Red so much is they are well defined characters. And they are growing as the series progresses. This book brings back two characters from the previous novel (and spoils a few surprises in the process, so you might want to read it first). While Chan doesn't have enough page time to develop, the other one becomes a better defined character here, too. The rest of the cast is made up of colorful characters who are memorable even if they don't get much page time.

The book is written by Big Red with a bit of a "twang" to it. It's enough to give the book a fun twist to the writing but not enough to make it at all hard to read. The book does include a bigger dose of foul language than I like, but it does reflect the fact that these aren't refined characters.

The only thing I was left wondering at the end of The Black Dove is where will the brothers go from here. I can hardly wait to find out.

The answer, of course, lies in the next book in the Holmes on the Range Mysteries in order.

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