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Literature / Holmes on the Range

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Otto "Big Red" Amlingmeyer, a German-American cowboy in the 1890s, finds himself stuck as The Watson to his brother Gustav "Old Red", a taciturn (yet illiterate) detective studying the methods of Sherlock Holmes. The brothers gradually make both friends and enemies throughout their cases, which provide a mix of action-adventure, comedy, and detective fiction. The novels follow the brothers' journey from wannabe sleuths to near Great Detective status.

  1. Holmes On the Range: The brothers are hired by a ranch, owned by absent English aristocrats, and observe lots of mysterious behavior from the regular employees. Then the ranch manager dies in a mysterious stampede, the owners of the ranch arrive for an inspection, and the brothers find themselves investigating their first big case.

  2. On the Wrong Track: Working as railroad detectives, the Amlingmeyers' encounter train robbers, a famed Pinkerton Detective, a woman who is not what she seems, a Chinese archaeologist trying to bring home some priceless artifacts, and more.

  3. The Black Dove: A friend's murder in Chinatown has the brothers and their new associate Diana looking into Dirty Cops', Tongs, and a mysterious missing prostitute.

  4. The Crack in the Lens: The brothers journey to look into the years old death of Old Red's fiancee, encountering a resentful lawman, sinister pimps, and strong indications of a local Serial Killer.

  5. World's Greatest Sleuth: The brothers find themselves competing with lots of other detectives, including their old friend Diana, to win a $10,000 prize, and some much needed publicity. Instead, they get involved in a deeper mystery when the contest organizer turns up dead.

  6. Dear Mr. Holmes: A short story collection, with stories set at various points in the brothers lives before or between the first five books.

  7. The Double-A Western Detective Agency: Now working as part of a larger agency, the brothers journey to take a job that lands them in the middle of a race-fueled range war.

  8. Hunters of the Dead: The brothers are hired as guards at a fossil dig in Wyoming, where shady academic politics become much more serious when a body is found in one of the dig pits.

  9. Partners in Crime: A second short story collection of five of the brothersí adventures set prior to the eighth book.

  10. Unreleased tenth book: The brothers go to Galveston, Texas, to investigate a murder related to a food tycoon's business.

Holmes On the Range contains examples of:

  • A True Story in My Universe: Exaggerated. Every detective story published in magazines, from Sherlock Holmes, to Nick Carter is presented as having been sold as factual memoirs (although many such as Carter and the fictional "Billy Steele, Boy Detective" are fabrications by the authors), with the Alingmeyer brothers publishing their own autobiographical mystery tales.
  • Accidental Aiming Skills: In World's Greatest Sleuth Big Red shoots the gun out of a bad guys hand, but later whispers to Old Red that he was aiming for his head.
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: Done deliberately in World's Greatest Sleuth. King Brady has an actor act as his proxy during the competition while he remains out of the public eye, and because his publisher doesn't want people knowing that he isn't exactly sex symbol material.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Old Red is quite pleased to go from a mere reader of Sherlock Holmes stories, to solving similar cases himself.
  • The Atoner: In The Crack in the Lens Bob and Lottie are helping the brothers partially out of friendship, and partially because They took the money that Old Red and Adeline were going to use to start a new life together after she died and used it to buy themselves a fresh start.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The eponymous short story in Partners in Crime draws attention to how the oily Mr. Dishanne owns a real estate company that buys up a lot of property whose owners leave town or die and also owns an insurance company that is getting more business due to the bad luck of the townspeople. Actually, Dishane apparently runs both companies honestly (in the legal if not moral sense) and his real criminal secret is owning a speakeasy.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Milford Bales in The Crack and the Lens is a bit too obsessed with keeping unsavory elements out of his town and is utterly convinced that Old Red is a murderer, but is ultimately willing to hear them out, and does a capable job investigating on his own.
  • Beast in the Building: In Hunters of the Dead, two well-behaved pigs are inside the local bar. The bartender explains that hungry thieves kept stealing his pigs when he kept them in a pen outside.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: Colonel Crowe is this to his adoptive daughter Diana, and shows some irritation in the brothers interest in her.
  • Brains and Brawn: Big Red is the tougher brother, Old Red is the smarter one, although Big Red isn't stupid, and Old Red can handle himself in a fight.
  • Broken Bird: There's an air of stoic sadness to Clara from the first book, after her father drove away the man she loved, humiliated her mother with affairs, gambled away her inheritance and treats her like dirt, with her Motive Rant after being exposed diving deeply into The Dog Bites Back.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Hunters of the Dead, novice paleontologist Miss Haynes has just said that no paleontologist would ever destroy a fossil when her boss and rumored lover, Professor Durgin, admits that when he worked for them, his rivals Loveland and Glaze dynamited multiple skeletons rather than let another scientist get them and that he stood by under protest and let it happen. Miss Hayes is somewhat disillusioned with everyone involved after this reveal, a sentiment which grows after it turns out both Durgin and Loveland have other secrets.
  • Brutal Honesty: In On the Wrong Track, Colonel Crowe tells the brothers that he is only hiring them because he's of his confidence that neither is a spy for the train robbers, as they are completely unqualified for the job, and the last people he would normally hire, while the train robbers would have someone with an acceptable resume.
  • The Cameo: The fifth book features an appearance by Holmes himself, using the alias he had in The Adventure of the Empty House.
  • The Cavalry: in the sixth book it turns out that a few other mysterious figures lurking around are new hires to the agency who Colonel Crowe sent to help them out after finding out more about their job.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jim Weller, an African-American cowboy from the first book is initially just a man who isn't hired along with the brothers to show what a Jerkass Ully McPherson is, but later turns up looking for Hungry Bob Tracy, hoping to collect the bounty, and working with the brothers. His being excluded from the hiring by a ranch which does hire black men also serves as an early clue to Tall John being a spy- Ully was only going to count down seven men from the line and hire them, and Tall John had let himself get pushed to eighth place.
  • Christmas Episode: The short story "My Christmas Story" in Partners in Crime features the Amlingneyer Brothers setting out to find a Christmas tree for their landlady and stumbling into a case involving a man who was shot while dressed as Krampus.
  • Clueless Deputy:
    • Local deputy Jack Martin in the first book (his boss is never actually seen) is a bit unimaginative and described as cowering during the final fight.
    • Tommy in The Crack in the Lens is earnest, and brave, but a bit gullible and impressionable.
    • Flip Compton, the deputy in The Double-A Western Detective Agency is a reasonable man, but a bit slow, and easily overwhelmed. This actually works in the brothers favor, as he is happy to let them take point in the case after his boss is murdered, and listens to their insights.
  • Coincidental Accidental Disguise: In the short story "Bad News," a newspaperman is robbed by a white-robed man who he insists must be a KKK member from the local Still Fighting the Civil War Democratic Party, out to strike against him due to his Republican politics. The robber encourages this impression afterward to divert the investigation but really only wore the white robe (likely stolen from a church choir closet) and hood because he didn't have time to change out of his distinctive clothes or find something else to hide his locally well-known face before the unplanned robbery and needed something to to completely cover his features and clothes.
  • Comically Cross-Eyed: Averted with the cross-eyed Swivel-Eye Smith in the first book, who is cross-eyed but is the least comical of their fellow cowboys.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Peopleís awkwardness about swearing in front of women and the severe amount of racism and sexism in the Wild West are frequently at play, although the Amlingmeyer brothers themselves and many of their friends are above these attitudes. In both The Double-A Western Detective Agency and Hunters of the Dead, Apache detective Eskaminzim has to hide his involvement in shootouts with outlaws because a Native American killing a white man under any circumstances might get him lynched, with his black associate Hoop also showing such concern, albeit to a lesser degree.
  • Dirty Cop; Quite a few lawmen are corrupt or abuse their authority, but Inspector Mahoney in The Black Dove stands out.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The death of Old Red's "Soiled Dove" fiancee in the backstory of A Crack In the Lens didn't get much public attention. And the disappearances of another prostitute every year on the anniversary of her death avoided notice completely.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The average duration of a story is three days, although the first book follows a longer period of time and the epilogue of The Crack in the Lens follows them for a couple weeks after the main events of the book.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Fiona and Eileen from the short story The Water Indian show the brothers quite a bit of attention while their stopped at their family farmhouse.
  • First-Person Smartass: Big Red's narration is filled with puns, and dry quips at those he dislikes.
    Big Red: Some fellows are born with huevos so large they could bluff their way out of hell itself. Tall John was not such a man. A fox with a mouthful of chicken feathers could hardly have looked more guilty.
  • French Jerk: Downplayed with M. Valmont in World's Greatest Sleuth, who clashes a bit with the brothers over their instance that the mysterious death was murder, but isn't overly condescending or thick-headed.
  • Graceful Loser:
    • In Hunters of the Dead, Mead makes no effort to deny the accusations against him or escape after being exposed as an accomplice to murder and shows some tired relief that the deception is over.
    • The eponymous short story in Partners in Crime ends with one of the culprits laughing merrily after being exposed and facing public censure but (probably) not jail time. It helps that the summation also humiliated some other characters that person dislikes.
  • Hard Boiled Detective: King Brady is considered one, although he strikes the brothers as being too much of a dandy, until [[spoiler: until they meet the real King Brady and learn the other man is his far less
Competent body double]]. Nick Carter is also mentioned, disdainfully, a few times.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Big Red isn't afraid to admit his own failures, particularly when it comes to not figuring out the case.
    The clan Kennedy had taken my brother and me for fools. And alas, they'd been half right.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: All of the prostitutes seen or mentioned in, The Crack In the Lens and The Black Dove are god-natured and trustworthy, except for Big Bess, although it's made clear that Unproblematic Prostitution is not a phrase they would use to describe their lives.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Escaped killer "Hungry Bob" Tracy, whose presence lurks in the first book.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: In the first book, Perkins was murdered well before the events of the series by a man who needed to impersonate him, Clara's husband, Nathaniel.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: In a non-romantic version, in The Crack in the Lens, Old Red pretends to suspect Bob and Lottie of the murder to angrily drive them away at a key point in the investigation and get them out of approaching danger.
  • I Want Grandkids: Mr. Kennedy from the short story The Water Indian is eventually revealed to have a bad case of this. The fact that his family is the only one left in the area and he refuses to move elsewhere in order to find sons-in-law that way doesn't help.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The long ago murder of a prostitute in The Crack in the Lens has some resemblance to this. And then it turns out there were a bunch of similar murders, and indeed the killer has a bunch of books on Jack the Ripper in his house.
  • Living Legend: King Brady and Burl Lockhart.
  • Mistaken Confession: In The Crack in the Lens it turns out that the reason that Milford Bales hates Old Red is because he mistook Old Red's drunken It's All My Fault speech after Adeline was murdered as him confessing that he'd killed her.
  • The Mole: Tall John is spying on the rest of the new hands for Spider and his brother in the first book. In On The Wrong Track Kip the newsboy is working with the train robbers.
  • Motor Mouth: Big Red is a talkative guy, although this is often justified by a need to stall or distract people as part of the investigation.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The series isn't shy about swear words but uses the word "fudge" instead of fuck. It's even a running gag with Gus Bock while noting that "fudge" isn't the actual word being used.
  • Never Learned to Read: Old Red is illiterate, with the family having spent all of their money on Otto's schooling.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: The culprit is rarely anyone that Big Red gives too much scrutiny to.
  • Nobility Marries Money: In the first book, Lady Clara is the daughter of an Impoverished Patrician and is viewed as being Defiled Forever by British society for her past romance with her father's secretary. Social Climber George Edwards (the son of a successful but despised Snake Oil Salesman) is willing to overlook her past (and pay her father's debts) if marrying her will get him accepted into high society. Clara is already secretly married, and commits suicide after being exposed as one of the book's villains.
  • Nom de Mom: In Hunters of the Dead Peanut butter tycoon Olivia Pertewee uses her motherís maiden name, Haynes, while travelling with an expedition she sponsored under her male alter ego Professor Pertwee, an identity she assumed because no one would loan start-up capital to a woman.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Two such comments are made in Hunters of the Dead.
    • While Old Red is willing to concede that shady fossil hunter Walter Glaze was an Asshole Victim, he admits that he could emphasize with Glaze in that they were both talented members of their professions who struggled to get people to take them seriously due to being self-taught and a little rough behind the edges.
    • Shoshone Mook Doyadukubichi comments that he only hangs out with and helps a group of white gunmen because blending in with them is the only way for a tough adult Native American to "stay off the reservation without getting shot for it" and comments that Eskaminzim (the half-Apache detective working for the Double-A Western Detective Agency) should be able to understand that.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Old Red is a reserved, often sour person.
  • Perpetual Smiler: Sergeant Ryan is described as having a permeant glow to his expression.
  • Photo Op with the Dog: A plot point in the short story "My Christmas Story" is two railroad executives and an employee dressed as Santa Claus planning to have themselves photographed donating a bunch of Christmas trees to a Company Town without many trees.
  • Pinkerton Detective: The brothers spend the first several books trying to join the agent and getting turned away, before setting out to make their own agency.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: In one short story, when an outlaw is arrested by a man who Old Red deduces is Impersonating an Officer, after they've exposed and captured that man, Old Red tells them to keep an eye on the prisoner who'd just been "arrested" and they catch him suddenly untied, and about to go for a gun, with Old Red pointing out that since they were staging the whole arrest it obviously made sense to leave the guy not tied very tight in case anything went wrong and he needed to fight or flee.
  • Poirot Speak: A French detective in, World's Greatest Sleuth has difficulty with his syntaxes, which fits, given that he's an Expy of Hercule Poirot.
  • Police Are Useless: Often averted or zigzagged, although the brothers are the ones to do the real mystery-solving, the actual authorities are generally competent at their jobs (although there are exceptions).
    • Jack Martin is a bit of a blunderer and somewhat cowardly in the first book, but is introduced out searching for an escaped killer, and during Old Red's summation, gradually shows signs of believing him. He spends the final shootout that follows this cowering in a corner, but does get off a couple shots, one of which might have hit Ully McPherson.
    • The brothers themselves are the police (railroad police anyway) in On the Wrong Track, and while a bit gruff, Colonel Crowe is a fairly shrewd fellow, who has another agent planted on the train who also does a good job.
    • Mahoney from The Black Dove is an active menace to the characters and has no interest in catching a killer, but is corrupt rather than incompetent.
    • Milford Bales in The Crack in the Lens spends a lot of the novel hostile and pursuing a vendetta against Old Red, and has obviously overlooked quite a few crimes in his town over the last five years, but he does come around and prove helpful in the end, and has forced the local Den of Iniquity to relocate to outside of city limits. His deputy also works to prevent the brothers from falling victim to a lynch mob. The county sheriff on the other hand, is an utter jerk who is either complicit or willfully blind in everything that's been going on.
    • Sergeant Ryan in World's Greatest Sleuth is described as "Shockingly Reasonable" in the appendix, and while he does voice the belief that the death was an accidental one, he voices some decent logic for doing so, is shown to still be thorough investigating things anyway, and ultimately doen't obstruct the brothers at a key point in the case.
    • Marshal Hinkle in The Double-A Western Detective Agency is a fair-minded, inviting man who works hard to keep the peace and doesn't kowtow to corrupt local interests, while his deputy Flip Hinkle is an earnest, well-meaning guy who steps aside and lets the brothers and Diana do their thing when the choice is in his shoulders.
    • Larry Hellyer from Hunters of the Dead is a blacksmith who is a part-time constable for extra cash and shows absolutely no courage or imagination in investigating crimes or keeping the peace, with much of his constituency rightfully viewing him as a complete moron. He is also a passive Bigot with a Badge who is quick to believe the worst of Native Americans.
    • Marshal Nickles, from one of the short stories in Dear Mr. Holmes is a bullying, bigoted man who is quick to seize the obvious solution and reluctant to admit that he's wrong.
  • Revealing Cover Up:
    • In the first short story, Old Red observes that a suspicious drifter taken in by the cattle drive kept demanding everyone stay away from his saddle bags, which naturally made everyone more curious about them. Said saddle bags turn out to contain proof that the man is a wanted fugitive. This is inverted when Old Red deduces that he was deliberately baiting them into looking into his saddlebags as part of a Batman Gambit to trick the cattle drive into taking him to the nearest town to turn him in for the reward, when a party of bushwhackers planning to kill them and steal the herd were waiting outside of said town.
    • In World's Greatest Sleuth, Boothby Greene and Blackheath-Murray discard their European shoes and buy replacements from a local shoemaker after realizing the brothers know that Curtis's killer wore European shoes. Almost all of the innocent suspects own European shoes and Old Red becomes suspicious of how the Englishmen just happen to come to Chicago wearing locally sold shoes, so that cover-up backfires.
  • Savage Wolves: The short story "Wolves in Winter" features a pack of wolves who are pathetic-looking and normally harmless, but have become more desperate due to cold and starvation. They chase the main characters and killed an accomplice of the villains prior to the story.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The short story The Water Indian has the brothers stay at a farm and encounter a supposed local spirit risen by Native American magic and haunting the area. Naturally, it is no such thing, and, as Old Red quickly suspects, is being used to accomplish an earthly purpose. Namely, their host, Mr. Kennedy, is trying to keep them from leaving until he can have his daughters seduce one of them, as well as to scare off any Mormons who try to settle in the area.
    Old Red: Well, sir, usually I make it a point not to have any prejudices and to just let the facts lead me where they will. But it turns out I've got me one prejudice I can't shake. I don't believe in spooks and monsters.
  • Seen It All: Sergeant Ryan notes that he's seen some very bizarre deaths in his sixteen years as a policeman, including a woman who was accidentally strangled to death by her own hair.
  • Savage Wolves: The short story "Wolves in Winter" features a pack of wolves who are pathetic-looking and normally harmless, but have become more desperate due to cold and starvation. They chase the main characters and killed an accomplice of the villains prior to the story.
  • Shaming the Mob: A Crack in the Lens features an example that's only clear in retrospect. The heroes have been Wrongfully Accused of murder and tossed in jail. It quickly becomes clear that a mob is forming to attack and lynch them once it gets dark. From a distance, they observe Brother Landrigan who they've had several clashes with earlier in the novel adressing the mob. At the time, they speculate he's helping stir them up. Later, they're told that the verse he was reading was John 8:7, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It fails to break up the mob, but later Landrigan (and several other supporting characters) do it more successfully (and with a little physical force added in) when the mob is literally on top of the brothers.
  • Sherlock Homage: Old Red. World's Greatest Sleuth also features Boothby Greene, an amateur British detective trying to cash in on the wake left by Holmes, who is still one of the more gracious and perceptive detectives in the competition. Even though he's the murderer.
  • Siblings in Crime: Ully and Spider McPherson are brothers in the first book who are pretty blatantly up to something criminal from the moment they appear. The same is trued of hired gunmen Knute and Konrad Karlsvik in the sixth book.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Suspicous, quick-fisted Ed Sweeny, and his genial, accommodating brother Johnny in The Double-A Western Detective Agency. And then of course there's the Amlingmeyer brothers themselves (gloomy genius Old Red and garrulous Otto, The Watson).
  • Sole Survivor: Otto was the only Amlingmeyer (save for Gustav, who was absent) to survive the flood which destroyed the family farm.
  • Stealth Expert: Subverted. In one short story, Old Red is suspicious specifically because Big Red was able to sneak up behind a gunman (observing that Big Red "ain't exactly comanche material when it comes to stealth") and deduces that the guy let him do this.
  • Southern Gentleman: Julius Horatio Riggs from the short story "Bad News" is a well-dressed man with a thick Southern accent and a gracious, good-humored manner. The "Southern" part outweighs the "gentleman", though, as his demeanor can quickly get colder (although still relatively civil) toward anyone who disagrees with his politics, which includes sitting around a saloon with a Confederate flag proudly displayed in it.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Although he's since grown out of it, Old Red and Bob's friend "Suicide" Cheney got his nickname for stunts like trying to put a saddle on a bull and ride it.
  • Summation Gathering: Old Red naturally reveals the culprit in the presence of all of the suspects at the end of each case (although often with the clear indication that it's building up to some kind of fight), most impressively when does so in front a crowd of hundreds of people (along with the Crowes, and the various suspects) in World's Greatest Sleuth. Subverted in A Crack in the Lens where first he and Big Red are alone with the sheriff and try to convince him of what they have figured out so far (which isn't everything), and later, once they have a complete picture, the brothers are Alone with the Psycho and desperately trying to stall while being held at gunpoint. World's Greatest Sleuth also has M. Valmont hist such a gathering, but he's largely bluffing, not having any definite conclusion of his own yet, and hoping to stir things up.
  • Those Two Guys: Wentworth and Mead, the junior paleontologists in Hunters of the Dead. Wentworth is always making stupid or condescending comments and being told to shut up by Mead. This takes on a darker turn after The Reveal that Wentworth is the killer and Mead is his Guilt-Ridden Accomplice who hates him for turning them into criminals and being too selfish and stupid to even care.
  • Thought They Knew Already: Late in Hunters of the Dead, Big Red reveals his suspicions that Professor Durgin found the dinosaur skeleton during a previous dig where he was still working for someone else but hid his discovery until later, when he was an independent operator who could keep it for himself. Eskaminzim confirms this theory by commenting that his scouting of digs around the area made it obvious that Durgin had marked the area on his previous dig, but it was so obvious to him that he assumed everyone else knew.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Several characters, but notably Mr. Brackwell in the first book, a young Sheltered Aristocrat, who goes on to help the brothers with both the case, and the final shootout, and is described as looking more like a man when he leaves.
  • Train Job: In On The Wrong Track There's a multi-tiered one, first one train robbery that simply robs a few passengers, then a greater one when the leaders of the gang remain hidden onboard the train, holding the express clerk hostage, while planning to steal the train itself to transport a heavy stash of buried gold to the border.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The murderers from The Crack in the Lens are a sadistic married couple.
  • Was It All a Lie??: Both Old Red and Milford Bales loved Gertie in The Crack in the Lens, and received signs that she loved them back, and at the end are left wondering if she was merely manipulating one or both of them in order to make enough money to quit being a prostitute.
  • The Watson: Big Red rarely picks up on the clues himself but is always there to provide a witness to Old Red noticing them, and to his deductions being revealed.
  • Wham Line: Like most mystery stories, the series has quite a few twists and villains revealed with startling lines, but a few stand out.
    • In the first book, when Big Red shows several other characters the body of a villain he's just killed and Lady Clara lets out a shriek and starts crying, with it being revealed that the dead man is her secret husband.
      Big Red: That's Perkins, the VR's manager.
      Brackwell: No, it's not. It's Nathaniel Horne.
    • In On the Wrong Track, Old Red gives a summation to his brother and Tagalong Kid Kip, while admitting that there are still a few missing pieces in his reconstruction of the crime. Excited at bing able to help close the case, Kip reveals that he knows something that Old Red has overlooked. "Something that would explain everything." Kip is the real killer, which he demonstrates by pulling a gun on them and gloating about how smart and ruthless he's been as he prepares to close the case by killing them.
      Kip: Sorry, fellers. I can't have you messin' with that gold. I was hoping' I wouldn't have to do this, but..well...
    • In The Crack and the Lens, the brothers discover Old Red's Soiled Dove fiancee wasn't killed in a robbery or a simple crime of passion five years earlier when they arrange a meeting with one of her old coworkers, who freaks out when they surprise her.
      Old Red: Who'd you think we were, anyway?
      Squirrel Tooth Annie: I thought it was my time to go. Like Adeline. And the others.
    • The villain of "The Crack in The Lens'' is revealed when Old Red takes notice of some missing photographs.
      Old Red: I'm talkin' about the man who took 'em.
      "You mean The man who took 'em?" I pantominined pressing a camera button with my thumb. "Or the man who took 'em?" I swiped an imaginary picture off the wall and tucked it under my jacket.
      Old Red: Good God, Otto—don't you see how it all fits together? They're the same man.