Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: Dear Mr. Holmes - Seven Holmes on the Range Stories by Steve Hockensmith

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great short mysteries starring two good characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line
Holmes and the Old West
Combined in these short stories
Fun for the reader

Read About Old Red's Shorter Cases in Dear Mr. Holmes

I discovered the Holmes on the Range series not too long after Steve Hockensmith started writing them.  Or at least the novels.  Somewhere along the way, I learned that the characters had actually started out in a series of short stories before being turning into the first novel, but I never bothered tracking those stories down.  This month, Steve Hockensmith put all seven of those short stories together in a collection called Dear Mr. Holmes.  He sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I was thrilled to finally see what I had missed.

For those of us who know the characters, there's little need for an introduction.  And if you aren't familiar with them, here's the cliff notes version.  Set in the 1890's, these stories follow the Amlingmeyer brothers, better known to their friends as Old Red and Big Red.  After hearing a Sherlock Holmes story, Old Red becomes interested in becoming a detective like his hero.  And the two stumble upon some pretty interesting cases in these stories.

The first story recounts how the brothers first learn of Mr. Holmes and how that knowledge comes in handy very quickly when two of their fellow cowboys die during a cattle drive.  The brothers try their hand at running a café, only to have their cook accused of poisoning an obnoxious guest.  They meet up with a water spirit in Utah.  Big Red even has to play the detective in one of the stories.  And their second time on a train finds them in just as much danger as their first train trip, the subject of one of the novels.

The stories in this collection are presented in chronological order.  The first few stories are set before the first novel, but even then the brothers' transitions from location to location are explained.  Once the books come into play, there are references to those events or characters introduced in them, but never enough to spoil the novels if you haven't read them.  And for those of us who have, it just adds to the overall world that Old Red and Big Red live in.

Outside of quick cameos, the only characters to appear in more than one story are Old Red and Big Red.  The characters never feel short shafted, however.  They feel just as real as if they had been in a full book.  Meanwhile, the main characters are their normal selves.  Old Red is a quiet thinker who doesn't like to talk while Big Red will ramble on about anything.  Their interactions are sometimes funny and always fun.

It's no real surprise, then, that these stories are all written by Big Red.  The narration finds just the right balance between using slang and having the twang we associate with cowboys and being readable for modern audiences.  I've never found this mix to be hard to read, and this book was no exception.  And some of Big Red's turns of phrase or observations are pretty funny.

While I did guess the ending a couple of times, most of the time I was stumped until Old Red told us all what was really happening.

For fans of the books like me who have never read the short stories, getting this collection is a no brainer, and I bet fans who have already read these stories will enjoying having them all together in their collection.  And if you are looking for some fun new characters, give the stories in Dear Mr. Holmes a try.  You just might find a couple of new characters you'll really come to love.

While the stories in this book take place between the rest of the series, you'll want to read the rest of the Holmes on the Range Mysteries in order.

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