Monday, February 11, 2019
This is the third appearance here by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith. I am rather surprised that it is the first one I have listed concerning his series characters the Amlingmeyer brothers. Old Red and Big Red are cowboys at the end of the nineteenth century. Old Red is illiterate but a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. His younger brother Big Red is his long-suffering Watson.
When this story opens Gus and Otto (to give them either more formal names) have just settled in Ogden, Utah, where they have opened a detective agency. Due to Big Red's big mouth they find themselves out in the hills searching for a pine tree to help their landlady celebrate Christmas. This being a crime story, other stuff happens.
What makes these tales a treat is a combination of great characters and fine language. For example, our heroes meet three children and here is a bit of conversation with two of them.
"We were out looking for a Christmas tree," the boy said, "and we spotted a bear and-"
"I spotted it," the girl -- Sariah -- interjected.
Her brother ignored her.
"--we think it might be dead, but if it's alive we thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town--"
"I thought we could shoot it and sell the meat in town," Sariah said.
Ammon kept plowing on.
"--but we don't have a gun, so we sent our little brother to find somenoe who did--"
"I sent our little brother..." Sariah began...
You can picture them, can't you?
By the way, if you want to know what happens to the brothers next, you can find out in Hockensmith's new book The Double A Western Detective Agency. I can testify that it is, as Big Red, would say, a real ripsnorter.
Monday, August 19, 2019
This is the fourth appearance in this column by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith. And it's a very different story from him. I expect shorter,usually comic pieces but this is a straight-forward novella. And while he often writes about the old west this is, I think, the first time I have read him delving into the 1940s.
In fact it is 1940 in New York. Colleen Flynn, a former cop, is an assistant hotel detective at the Grand American, a second-string house. "The guys from Ford and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and General Foods stayed elsewhere. The Grand American got Studebaker and Republic Pictures and Dr. Ross's Dog and Cat Food."
And the hotel also got a death. Longtime guest Laurence Kaufman hung himself in the shower. Except one of the maids, a Polish refugee, informs Colleen that he was probably murdered. Colleen investigates although her boss points out that her boss points out that bringing bad guys to justice is no longer her job.
Actually, the boss is one of the pleasant surprises in this story, since he goes quite against type.
I wonder if this is to be part of a series because we are definitely left wondering about our heroine. What's her backstory? Why did she leave the force?
Ah, so many mysteries.
Monday, February 14, 2022
"Bad News," by Steve Hockensmith , in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January.February 2022.
This is the fifth appearance here by my friend and former SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith. It is the second showing by the characters who star in his highly original novel series.
For those of you who are new to the tales, these are westerns starring Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer, better known as Old Red and Big Red. Big Red narrates the tales with a breezy sense of humor. His older brother is a sour pessimist who, after discovering the reports on Sherlock Holmes's adventures, has determined to become a detective. He has the brains but his big liability is that he never learned to read.
In this story the brothers, now running the A.A. Western Detective Agency, arrive in Little, Colorado to help a publisher who has been held up and robbed of a whole edition of the paper - apparently by a lone Ku Klux Klansman. The obvious suspect is a rival publisher who hails from the south.
But Old Red is no sucker for obvious solutions.
Half the joy in these tales is Gustav's deductions. The other is Otto's witty asides. "I'd say I know my brother like the back of my hand even though it's another kind of backside he more often brings to mind."
The story is a treat.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
I admit I may be biased in favor of this story, simply because of its subject matter, which is one my family is dealing with currently.
Frank is a retired police detective, living in an assisted living complex. Frank's memory is, at best, shaky. He can't always remember what day it is, or the names of his neighbors (although in the case of at least one neighbor's name, Hockensmith notes drolly, "forgetting it had been a choice.")
But now a series of crimes are happening in the complex -- maybe. Unless someone is imagining it in senile dimensia. Can Frank pull himself together long enough to catch the culprit? And what if he is the culprit?
Witty, touching, and a twist at the end. What more do you want?
Sunday, April 3, 2022
"The Book of Eve (The First Mystery)," by Steve Hockensmith, Death of a Bad Neighbour: Revenge is Criminal, edited by Jack Calverley, Logic of Dreams, 2022.
I have a story in this book.
This is the sixth appearance in this column by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Steve Hockensmith.
As the title suggests, this is a retelling of the first murder mystery. Abel has gone missing and his mother Eve is looking for him.
Much of the pleasure in this story is in the way it's told, the language of the characters. And not all of them are human. For example, here is a sheep complaining of the absence of Abel, the shepherd.
"It's a bummer, too. We've had lions come by, hyenas, wild dogs. There's an eagle that's gotten, like six lambs. It's a wonder the jerk can still fly."
The ewe bent her head and tore out another mouthful of grass.
"I can hardly believe I'm still alive," she muttered.
"Why didn't you come down out of the hills?" Eve asked her. "Get me and Adam? Or Cain?"
The eye lifted her head again. But it wasn't to look at Eve and the serpent. It was to glance around at the other sheep languidly gazing nearby.
"What?" she said. "And leave the flock?"
A very funny story that manages to be surprisingly moving as well.
Monday, June 4, 2018
This is Hockensmith's second appearance here.
It's 1995 and a young and naive college student gets a job as a receptionist at a video matchmaker service. (The story is peppered with sad and hilarious ads, like the woman who prefers lizards to other pets, or the man who offers to take you on a tour of Ed Gein's farm, the inspiration for the movie Psycho.)
She quickly figures out that her main job is providing a layer of protection between her slime devil boss and his dissatisfied customers. But things have a way of turning around and the ending is full of clever twists.
Sunday, January 22, 2023
"The Grown-Ups Table," by Steve Hockensmith, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2023.
This is my first review of a story published in 2023. That seems like a good opportunity to remind you that authors/editors/publishers are welcome to send me books or magazines for consideration, paper or electronic. I promise to read at least the start of every story sent and review the best I read each week.
Speaking of which, we have here the seventh appearance by my friend and fellow SluethSayer Steve Hockensmilth. If I understand this essay correctly he is writing a novel in stories and this is the third chapter.
All the stories relate to the closing of the Monkeyberry Toy Store in River City. This particular tale shows us the Christmas dinner of the family that owned the store, and a classically dysfunctional family it is.
We have Uncle Dan who can't stop spouting the philosophy of his favorite right-wing radio host. And there is Cryptique who, until we turned goth a few months ago, was named Bobby. (He's drinking coffee because it is "the only available beverage that is black.")
But the main character is Tia who has just graduated to the Grown-Ups Table. And she is carefully orchestrating the ditnner conversation to reveal who murdered the family matriarch, Gammy Bibi.
For me the hardest part of writing a story is the plot - as opposed to premise, characters, dialog, etc This is especially true in the type of story in which clues are revealed. I admire how Tia/Hockensmith reveal the pieces of the puzzle until only one suspect is left. Clever and satisfying.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Boy. Where to start with this one?
I am on the record as not being a fan of fan fiction, where people just write yet another story about Sherlock Holmes, or another novel about the characters of a dead author.
I feel differently about pastiches, where someone rethinks a familiar character or plot and does something different with it. (Hey, I've done that myself.)
And this one falls in between the stools, you might say. Jonathan Turner has used (with permission) Steve Hockensmith's characters Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer, and combined them with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
If you aren't familiar with the Amlingmeyer brothers, they are cowboys around the turn of the century. Old Red is illiterate but is a huge fan of Holmes and wants to be a detective, and he's good at it. Big Red is the narrator, as witty as his brother is grumpy. They have appeared in several short stories and five novels. (And I have illustrated one above, rather than using the cover of the same EQMM two weeks in a row.)
This story takes place not long after the most recent (but I hope not last) novel in the series. The first half is a letter from Big Red to Holmes explaining a case the brothers encountered in New York, which ends with the villain escaping on a ship to London (as Old Red deduces). The second half consists of Holmes and Watson figuring out which passenger is the bad guy.
If I were Hockensmith I'd be surprised and maybe a little nervous about the uncanny way Turner captures the voices of my characters - better than he did Conan Doyle's, I think. Here is an example. (Gus is another name for Old Red. His brother is talking to King Brady.)
"Enjoying things ain't what you'd call Gus's strong suit," I told him. "You may be the King of the New York dicks, but he's the Ace of Curmudgeons."
"That makes you the Jack of Asses," Gus retorted.
A lot of fun.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
This is the seventh appearance here by fellow SleuthSayer, Terence Faherty. He remains the World Champeen in my blog.
Let's talk about pastiches. Again. It seems like there is something in the air, or the zeitgeist that is pulling htem at a high rate and high quality.
Last week it was Jonathan Turner's mash-up of characters created by Steve Hockensmith and Arthur Conan Doyle. Faherty himself has written clever send-ups of Doyle's work. And Evan Lewis dazzled us with a reboot of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories.
But today's story more closely resembles another series of Mr. Lewis: those about state legislator David Crockett who is the unfortunate bearer of the consciousness of his ancestor Davy Crockett.
Mr. Faherty introduces us to Kelly and David, a married couple who visit Hawaii. David has some annoying habits, wanting to tell his wife everything he knows, especially about whatever book he is reading. (Why no, I am nothing like that myself. Just ask my wife. Or better yet, don't.)
But David is reading one of S.S. Van Dine's novels about that most irritating of Golden Age amateur sleuth's, Philo Vance. (Ogden Nash wrote that he needed a kick in the pance.) And when David suffers a concussion he becomes convinced that he is the great and annoying detective. Bad for his wife, but good for justice since a mysterious death has just occurred...
Very funny and clever.