On the Wrong Track
by Steve Hockensmith
Review by Gayle Surrette
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312347819
Date: 06 March 2007 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Starting shortly after the incident in Holmes on the Range, in On the Wrong Track we find the Amlingmeyer brothers trying to find work where Gustav can use his investigating skills to fight crime. When we join the story, they've used most of the cash savings and been laughed at in most of the places they've asked about employment. However, a chance meeting with a down and out drunk who turns out to be Burl Lockhart, famous in many a penny dreadful, sets them off to become railroad detectives for Southern Pacific. Will this be the chance they need to see Gustav's dream come true or just another chance to fail?
There's some problems right at the beginning. You see Amlingmeyer's don't use trains because their cattlemen and the railroads are ruining the West, or at least that's why Otto always thought they didn't take trains. Gustav has a secret. He's ashamed to admit but any reader will figure it out by chapter two -- he gets train sick. Now the whole train thing and the fact that they're low on funds has Otto rethinking his relationship with Gustav. Gustav wants to be a detective and we saw in the first book that he really has a flair for it. He wants Otto to be his Watson and write up his stories. Otto has written the first adventure up but he refuses to send it off -- mainly because if you don't send it, it can't be rejected.
There's enough red herrings and misdirection to get a train on a track lost. But it's not confusing to the reader. Hockensmith sets us a tidy mystery with train robbers, drunk Pinkerton officials, officious train personnel, and some very strange and strangely acting passengers. And through it all we have the brothers who have to come to terms with the new changes in their relationship. Otto is the youngest but he's the one who can read. Gustav is rich in common sense and abilities but he's ridden the range for years and took on being father and brother to Otto when the family died in a flash flood years ago. Now they're equals and that is changing some of the dynamics in their relationship. And this is all coming on top of a mystery that looks like it could get them killed six ways from Sunday if they aren't careful.
This is a much richer book than Holmes on the Range, the characters were well drawn and believable in the first book but now they just crackle with energy, causing you, the reader, to worry about them and what they will do next. I found myself getting angry with the train personnel and passengers when they diss'd my guys. I like Otto and Gustav -- they're good people and I hope to read many more stories about their adventures. I just hope the next one lets me catch my breath between mishaps and near misses.