First introduced to readers in Holmes on the Range, brothers Gustav “Old Red” and Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer are cowboys turned detectives in late 1890’s America. World’s Greatest Sleuth!, the fifth entry in the series, finds Sherlock Holmes disciple Gustav (“Some folks get religion. Gustav got Sherlock Holmes.”) and Watson-esque brother Otto summoned to Chicago to participate in a mystery solving competition at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (aka Chicago World’s Fair).
Upon arrival, the brothers find themselves up against famous crime solvers from around the world, including frenemies Col. Crowe and Diana Corvus (On the Wrong Track and The Black Dove). The competitors are challenged with solving a set of clues each day, with the winner of the most daily competitions at the end of the contest being crowned the “World’s Greatest Sleuth.”
Things take a serious turn, however, when the competition’s organizer is found dead on the second day of the competition..face down in a giant vat of cheese (The Mammoth Cheese From Canada – Weight 22,000 Pounds). Though the local police seem inclined to write it off as an accidental death, Gustav and Otto think there’s more to it than meets the eye and, as Holmes would say, the game is afoot to find the killer.
The Chicago World’s Fair is a unique setting – and a marvelous one for a murder mystery – but is one with which many readers many not be familiar. Have no fear. Author Steve Hockensmith does a fantastic job making the Fair and its famed “White City” come to life:
Then we were outside again…and we were in the White City. Smythe kept charging on ahead. My brother and I stopped dead in our tracks. To our left was what looked like a vast castle bedecked with dozens of flapping banners – the largest single thing we’d ever seen spring from the hands of man. When we turned to the right, we saw something even bigger. It was the castle times two with the White House and the Vatican thrown in for good measure.
It was nine o’clock…yet outside there was no lack of light. Electricity blazed everywhere and on everything, and if you’d taken the time to count them up, I do believe the Westinghouse bulbs would have outnumbered the stars above. Great searchlights upon the rooftops were throwing beams of color all around the fairgrounds as well, bright circles of emerald, azure, and scarlet sweeping over the buildings and water and people.
Hockensmith’s wonderfully vivid descriptions make the reader feel as if he were actually there at the Chicago World’s Fair along with Otto and Gustav. Hockensmith is also very adept at blending setting and story with just the right amount of humor, all of which makes following the adventures of the Amlingmeyer brothers pretty much irresistible.
If you like mysteries (especially of the Sherlock Holmes variety), westerns, or homicide with a side of humor then you need to pick up a copy of World’s Greatest Sleuth! and get to deducifyin’ and detectin’ along with Otto and Gustav, two of the most colorful and engaging amateur sleuths you’ll ever encounter.
World’s Greatest Sleuth! will be released on January 18th from Minotaur Books (ISBN: 978-0312379438).