Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH! - Steve Hockensmith

First line: "My heart wasn't just pounding in my ears as we ran."

Otto and Gustav find themselves in the Windy City during the World's Columbian Exposition where they will be competing in the World's Greatest Sleuth contest. The contest is being held in conjunction with the announcement of Sherlock Holmes' death and the world is watching to see who will replace him as the greatest sleuth. However, a wrinkle appears in the contest plans when the organizer is found dead, face down in a huge hunk of cheese.

WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH! is the fifth book in Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series, and I'm convinced that smart and funny are simply embedded in Hockensmith's DNA. He reels you in with wonderfully dynamic characters and colorful, laugh out loud descriptions. The Holmes-esque plot keeps the reader dizzy trying to figure out who dunnit. And the themes provide depth to those already fun plots.

One of the elements I appreciate about Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series is his fair play. He doesn't pull a character out of no where to solve the mystery at the end. You always know, as the reader, that you have a chance to be solving the crime as well and you get all the same information the sleuth's have. There are no surprises but plenty of "Ah ha" moments.

Another of the elements that I appreciate in Hockensmith's writing is his use of intelligent humor. He doesn't try to insult his readers with junior high jokes. Instead his themes are substantial and well-developed and the humor works to develop the complexity. Although his books are set in the 19th century, commentary about current events can often show through as well. Sometimes it's a situation where it still holds true today and we humans haven't learned our lessons yet:

"The sheer scope of the Exposition soon overwhelmed me, though. Every page was so packed with the Biggest This and the Greatest That and the Most Expensive the Other, I started wondering what mankind was trying to prove. We seemed like little more than children waving our broomstick horses at heaven shouting, 'Look at us, Pa! Look what we made!'"

Other times, we see Hockensmith just poking a little fun at current events, like voting in Chicago. And yet other times, he forces us to pause momentarily and think:

"'The point is, everything seems obvious in hindsight, and it's only a few folks who can see that the impossible is possible goin' ahead, not just lookin' back. The grand thing is to be able to reason forward - and then follow through on it.'"

In all elements of the novel, Hockensmith's dialogue is infused with dialect which works brilliantly to bring out the flavor of the characters and the setting. In this particular installment of the series, the "World's Fair" presents characters from around the world and Hockensmith doesn't miss a beat on their dialogue.

The final element I have to comment on, and it's probably what I consider to be Hockesmith's greatest strength in this series, is the depiction of the relationship between his protagonists. Otto (Big Red) and Gustav (Old Red) are brothers. Each has his strengths and weaknesses, and each respects the other while still taking every opportunity to poke a brotherly jab here and there. But God help the person outside their duo who tries to take a jab at one of the brothers. It's delightfully authentic and anyone with a sibling will appreciate the dynamics of their relationship.

Whether a short story or a novel, I look forward to Hockensmith's style and creativity. WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH! proves that Hockensmith hasn't lowered his standard on quality when it comes to his writing. If anything he continues to raise bar. So, if you haven't checked this one out yet, rustle yourself up a copy and prepare yourself for the WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH!

WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH! is available from St. Martin's Minotaur in print (978-0-312-37943-8) and from Tantor Media on audio (978-1-452-65013-5) narrated by William Dufris.


Clare2e February 23, 2011 at 5:36 PM  

I love this setting since Devil in the White City, and I'm an Amlingmeyer fan. Test out the hydraulics, TBR pile, I'm adding weight!

SuziQoregon February 27, 2011 at 8:16 PM  

I really must get to this series and soon. You got me hooked on Steve Hockensmith with Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime. I thank you for this.

Beth F February 28, 2011 at 7:02 AM  

I have the first one on audio -- must carve out more listening time!

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