The Black Dove: A Holmes on the Range Mystery
by Steve Hockensmith
Review by Gayle Surrette
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312347826
Date: 19 February 2008 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Interview: Steve Hockensmith /
Steve Hockensmith has managed to give us a truly American Sherlock Holmes in Gustav Amlingmeyer, an illiterate cowboy with a mind as sharp as any academic or literary genius. Gustav notices what goes on around him and while he may not say much, what he does say is usually to the point. Gustav's younger brother, Otto Amlingmeyer, on the other hand has had schooling and plays Watson to Gustav's Holmes. In fact, they're waiting in San Francisco to see if Otto's book of their previous adventure finds a publisher, giving them money to move on. Meanwhile, Gustav is finding living in a city to chaff a bit. Otto thinks that Gustav is pining for Diana Corvus, a detective working for the railroad who'd assisted them on their last case. So, it's Otto who suggests that Gustav hone his skills in city detecting by proposing a bet…one that Gustav reluctantly agrees to. Otto is determined to win his bet and since he gets to pick the place for the contest, he leads Gustav into the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown -- a place that adds an additional layer of foreignness and discomfort to Gustav who thrives on the open plains of cattle ranches.
It's this bet that propels the brothers into a case where a false move could cost them their lives. In the course of the investigation we learn more about the brothers as they lead us through an 1893 San Francisco: the wild Barbary Coast, Chinatown, Chinese Tongs, racial tension, corrupt cops and politicians. It may have started with a chance meeting with an old friend, but Gustav can't let go -- he must find the killer and save a young girl -- the game's afoot.
I've been hooked since I read Holmes on the Range. Told from Otto (Big Red) Amlingmeyer's point of view, the narrative is cowboy vernacular, rough but a voice that speaks from the heart -- a reader can't look away because these characters are real people dealing the best they can in a world that's changing out from under them. Perhaps it's the love the brothers have for one another, perhaps it's the side-kick aspect of the stories, whatever it is -- Otto and Gustav are characters that stay with you when you close the covers of the book. Researchers say that mystery readers like to have a world where justice, not necessarily law, triumphs…where the bad guy is punished for his or her crimes. That doesn't always happen in the world Gustav and Otto live in, but nevertheless when you close the book there is a sense of satisfaction -- of a job well done, even when it's not as neat or tidy as one could wish.