Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: The Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot and good character development
Cons: Very dark at time
The Bottom Line:
Darkness envelops
Good history mystery
Old Red, Big Red Shine

Old Red Faces Personal Demons

What if Sherlock Holmes had been a cowboy?  Okay, so the premise is more complicated than that, but it is a quick summary of the Holmes on the Range mysteries.  The Crack in the Lens is the fourth book so far about these cowboys and their "detectifying."

The series is set in 1893 and stars brothers.  Otto "Big Red" Amlingmeyer is six years younger and can actually read and write.  In fact, he's our narrator as he writes down their adventures for publication.  Gustav "Old Red" is quiet and a bit of a grump.  Thanks to Big Red reading stories about Sherlock Holmes, Old Red is also a follower of the great detective's methods.

Big Red's dreams of being a published author have finally come true.  Their previous adventures have been bought by a publishing company.  They've even sent him a royalty check.  Flushed with that money, the brothers aren't in a rush to find a new job.  .  As a result, Old Red decides it is time to head back to San Marcos, Texas, and resolve some unfinished business.

Five years earlier, Old Red was in love with a prostitute.  Before they could save up enough money to buy her freedom and get married, she was brutally murdered.  Now that he has some skill as a detective, it is time to go back and make sure the killer faces justice.  Not that it will be easy.  No one seems to want to help.  Even old friends are turning their backs on him.  Can Old Red solve a murder where the trail has grown very cold?

Now let me be perfectly clear up front.  This has always been a darker and grittier series than I would normally read.  The foul language is pretty rampant as well, and substituting words doesn't even help with a couple of the characters use certainly words every third or fourth word.  Fortunately, those characters were in and out of this book and not featured on every page.  Anyway, even by the standards of this series, this was a dark book with one particularly gruesome scene.

But I just couldn't stop reading the book.  The mystery was well plotted with a steady pace toward the climax.  But it was more than the mystery.  Our heroes faced so many dangers and dead ends it was really hard to put the book down.  I often had to know what would happen next.

Because of the personal nature of this case, I really felt like the character development was great here.  We truly get to see Old Red struggle for the first time.  He's not always the quiet observer he's been in previous books.  Plus talking to people who knew him before allowed us to see a lighter side of him.  Big Red got some reflected development, if you will.  His reactions to his brother's actions allowed us to see a new side of him as well.

The brothers were the only characters from previous books to return, but the new characters are certainly interesting.  While many of them appear to be one note characters early on, many show other sides of themselves as the story progresses.  Very few have enough page time to be truly fleshed out, but they serve their purpose well.

The writing is interesting in this series.  Big Red's narration gives it a bit of an uneducated Western accent.  It's just enough to be noticeable, but not enough to detract from the story.  First person also gives us a chance to enjoy Big Red's funny asides on the action, although those are fewer here when the book gets dark.

Though not my normal cozy diet, I do enjoy the adventures of Old Red and Big Red.  After seeing how The Crack in the Lens ends, I am already trying to find out word about where the series goes from here.

You'll get hooked as well and want to read the rest of the Holmes on the Range Mysteries in order.

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