There are a lot of ways to go about writing a Sherlock Holmes story. Some folks attempt to very carefully emulate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own style, and to turn out a tale that feels as if it might have been penned (or typed these days) by the creator of the great detective himself. No surprise that results vary. GREATLY. Hugh Ashton and Denis O. Smith are the best I’ve found in this regard. Last week, I took a deep dive into Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. You might want to click over and read that. Below, I present a complete chronology of the series (along with a list in publication order, following). Each entry comes with a non-spoiler summary – the kind of thing you’d find on a dust jacket or on a back cover. I think this is a useful reference to a terrific series. Steve himself reviewed and assisted, so it’s accurate. Come back next week for a Q&A with Steve, to wrap up our series.
A HOLMES ON THE RANGE CHRONOLOGY
ss – short story; nvlla – novella; nov – novel
(ss) Dear Mr. Holmes (July 1892)
So begins the Holmes on the Range saga. Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red) Amlingmeyer travel to Brownsville, TX, to sign on for a cattle drive. They’re gonna help move three thousand Mexican longhorns all the way up to Billings, Montana. En route one night, there’s a stampede. As they get the herd back in place, two of the cowboys are found, stomachs slashed, eyes cut out, and scalped. Clearly, Indians had raided the drive and killed the men. Except, Gustav’s not quite so sure. For the first time, he gets to try out the Holmes methods he’d heard sitting around the campfire and listening to Otto read “The Red-Headed League.” A stranger shortly joins the group, a lawman shows up, fireworks ensue, and Big Red gets the detection’ bug.
(ss) Gustav Amlingmeyer, Holmes of the Range (October, 1892)
Now in Billings, MT (the boys are constantly on the move), Otto has sent a letter to Harper’s Weekly (American publishers of the Sherlock Holmes stories), suggesting that they print stories about Old Red’s adventures. Gustav knows that spending their money freely and herding cattle isn’t going to get them anywhere in life. He wants to save up and buy something of their own. So, not bothering to clear it with Otto beforehand, he buys a lunch counter near the stockyards. Fortunately, Starchy’s Cafay comes with a cook (though Crazy Kathy McKenna is certainly a mixed blessing). The local law isn’t a fan of the place (The brothers rarely are on the favorable side of the badge), and when a crotchety old regular is poisoned, it’s up to Gustav to save the day. And the business.
(ss) Wolves in Winter (February, 1893)
The prior story having been rejected, Otto is at it again, sending another one to Harpers: this time from a hotel in Miles City, MT. There’s more tongue-in-cheek humor from Otto. The financial Panic had hit and the boys were forced to sell the lunch counter to Crazy Kathy (who had made sure to get her money during the run on the bank, before telling her employers to do the same). With a bleak situation in Billings looking ever more bleak, they hit the grub line, hoping prospects are better in Miles City. Winter is bitter cold, and some wolves look to make a meal out of the Amlingmeyer boys. Gustav finds use for his observational and deductive skills to evade an even bigger threat.
(nov) Holmes on the Range (Spring, 1893)
The Amlingmeyer Brothers are once again cowboys. Being cowpunchers down to their last nickel, they hire on at the Bar-VR Ranch. A stampede results in the death of the general manager (Otto isn’t joking when he comments that being a cowherd is a dangerous job). Except, Gustav’s not so sure about the stampede: Shades of the very first story. With more deaths, a cannibal named Hungry Bob, a British aristocrat who hates Sherlock Holmes, and a bully of a foreman, events conspire to hinder Old Red’s deducifyin’.
(ss) Dear Dr. Watson (June, 1893)
Otto sends a letter to – Dr. John Watson! (care of The Strand Magazine) – this one from Coeur d’Alene. ID. The Reds got ignored or laughed out of every Montana and Wyoming detective office they tried. A source of amusement to the high-and-mighty Pinkertons in Missoula, they get derisively referred to the Bloebaum agency. An unimpressive one-man shop, Old Red agrees to work on a blackmail case, gratis, as a try-out. Of course, nothing is ever easy for the boys.
(ss) The Water Indian (July, 1893)
The boys have made it to Logan, Utah for this letter (which is addressed to a principal character in Holmes on the Range). Gustav won’t give a penny to the hated railroads and they are on a long horseback ride westward. Standing out from the prior stories, this one is a supernatural adventure – set in Mormon Territory. Gustav tries to Sherlock things without offending their host, who is an anti-Mormon settler, eyeing the brothers as suitable marriage prospects for his two daughters!
(nov) On the Wrong Track (July, 1893)
Gustav would rather walk across the Sierras than take the train, but work is still hard to find and the boys take jobs as railroad police on the hated Pacific Express. When a murder occurs on board, Gustav puts his nascent detecting skills to work. Not surprisingly, this high-octane adventure goes off the rails.
(ss) The Devil’s Acre (August, 1893)
Otto has submitted On the Wrong Track – alternately titled Lockhart’s Last Stand, An Adventure on the Rails – to Smythe & Associates Publishing. This letter humorously reveals his impatience that they accept and publish it. Having become unemployed after their stint as railroad operatives, the brothers are forced into lodgings in San Francisco’s notorious Barbary Coast. Given a lead on a job, the boys learn more than they ever expected about being shanghaied. Otto gets to shine in this one.
(nov) The Black Dove (August, 1893)
If you read On the Wrong Track, you know that the Amlingmeyer Brothers had short careers as railroad detectives. Out of work in Oakland, they join forces with the lovely Diana Caveo, who had been on the Pacific Express with them. Another character from that train ride also reappears – though I don’t think they’ll be in book four…With a neat look at 1893 Chinatown and San Francisco, there’s fun and danger aplenty in the most action-packed tale yet.
(ss) Greetings from Purgatory! (September, 1893)
Another letter to Urias Smythe, who is now Otto’s Publisher! The brothers are stuck in Lovelock, NV, and the train doesn’t stop there very often. Having had enough of San Francisco after The Black Dove Affair, they headed off to San Marcos, the events of which are told in The Crack in the Lens. Big Red and Old Red had run up against the Give-’em-Hell Boys in On the Wrong Track. Danged if they don’t rob the boys’ train again! As always, Otto notices some things that tell him this is more than a simple train stick-up by their old enemies. And he is SO right.
(nov) The Crack in the Lens (September, 1893)
Otto having sold the manuscript Holmes for On the Wrong Track (or, Lockhart’s Last Stand, an Adventure of the Rails), the Amlingmeyer Brothers find themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having a grubstake. Five years before, Old Red’s one great love, a town whore named Greta, had been murdered. Now, Gustav returns to San Marcos (with Otto in tow, as always), and uncovers an ongoing mystery with shades of a certain London killer who signed his missives as Saucy Jack. Otto tracks his lost love’s killer to an explosive finale.
(nov) World’s Greatest Sleuth! (October, 1893)
Otto’s accounts of the brothers’ exploits had found print in Smythe’s Frontier Detective. Which earned the duo an invitation to The World’s Columbian Exposition (more commonly known as the Chicago World’s Fair). With Sherlock Holmes dead, they are competing in a contest to determine the world’s greatest amateur detective. A contest grumpily overseen by William Pinkerton, who isn’t a afn of the whole thing. When the brains behind the competition is found facedown in some cheese, (parsley in the butter, anyone?) there’s more to solve than just the contest.
(ss) Partners in Crime (November, 1893)
Otto and Gustav are on their way from the Chicago World’s Fair, to Ogden, Utah, where Colonel Crowe and Diana Caveo are setting up shop for the new Double-A Western Detective Agency. Oto explains in this letter to Diana that Gustav suggested they take a detour to Peabody Kansas, which is where the boys grew up. Every single member of the family had died, and the farm lost after a flood. Gustav had left before all that happened, and with no other kin alive, Otto left town to pair up with him. Neither had come back home since. A lot of folks aren’t happy to see the boys back, and they’re the lead suspects in an arson out at their old homestead.
(ss) My Christmas Story (December, 1893)
It’s another story sent to Urias Smythe, with an eye towards inclusion in next year’s Christmas issue. There’s a shortage of Christmas trees and the brothers set out to get one for their boarding house’s hard-of-hearing landlady. Because the boys fall across dead bodies and other serious crimes as often as a mild-mannered spinster in an Agatha Christie story, they come upon a dead body. Pine needles and a lack of tracks in the snow are part of yet another mystery to be solved by the Holmes of the West.
(nov) The Double-A Western Detective Agency (January, 1894)
This could be subtitled, ‘Or, Detectin’ Makes Strange Partners,’ as Colonel Crowe – formerly an employer and absolutely not a fan – joins forces with the brothers. And Diana Caveo (who we learned a big secret about in World’s Greatest Sleuth!) remains a recurring character, as the group opens some competition for the Pinkertons, in Ogden, Utah. Work is slow to come, and the brothers and Diana head off to nowhere New Mexico, to find themselves in the middle of a range war, with an unlikable client. The town is literally split down the middle, and the only thing keeping the powder keg from exploding is the Holmes of the Range. There’s a reference to what became the short story “Curious Incidents.”
(ss) Curious Incidents (January, 1894)
The boys end up investigating the case Colonel Crowe turned down in The Double-A Western Detective Agency. And Otto reveals in his letter to Urias Smythe that his publisher was the source of the request for help. Tales of a ghostly puma lure the boys to a sheep farm (sheep and cattle folks did not mix well in the Old West). The case involves a dog in the night time (note the story’s title) for more Holmes ambience This is a more traditional Holmes-style case and less a Western adventure.
(ss) Bad News (February, 1894)
Otto reveals in his letter to Urias Smythe that his manuscript for The Double-A Western Detective Agency is being published (though as ‘Cowboy Brothers Battle the New Mexico death Baron!,’ which he had jokingly offered as a title NOT to use). As the new agency struggles to find clients, the brothers take the train to Littleton, Colorado, where a newspaperman had been waylaid by a bandit – who may or may not be in the KKK. Not only did he lose his valuables, but also fifty copies of that morning’s edition were purloined. The Amlingmeyer boys find themselves involved in a small-town newspaper war with shades of “The Five Orange Pips.”
(ss) Can the Cat Catch the Rat? (February, 1894)
It’s another letter to Urias Smythe, head man at Smythe & Associates Publishing (the purveyor of Otto’s stories). Having solved the ‘Adventure of the Stolen Newspapers’ in Littleton, Colorado, the boys were back at the Double-A Western Detective Agency headquarters in Ogden, Utah. In a return appearance, their elderly, hard-of-hearing landlady, Miss Derringer, accuses them of stealing various and sundry items, and evicts them from the boardinghouse. Old Red isn’t gonna let that stand: and he gets help from more than just Big Red on this one.
(ss) Enchantress (February, 1894)
Otto and Gustav are summoned to Denver to investigate the theft of a valuable flower hybrid. But what seems like a straightforward theft case eventually blooms into something more surprising.
(nvlla) Black List (March, 1894)
Just a month after the two prioer incidents in Ogden, this letter to Urias Smythe finds the boys in Kingman, Arizona. Charles Burton Cornelius III, Esquire, needs some confidential investigating done. Range wars weren’t uncommon in the Old West, and the brothers have been involved with them before (The Double-A Western Detective Agency). But this time, there had been a black list of eleven cattlemen marked for death. Things didn’t work out as planned, and now there’s a deadly race to find the list. As usual, the Amlingmeyers are the least popular folks in town.
(ss) Expense Report: El Paso (April, 1894)
Gustav is recovering from events in Black List, so Otto gets sent out on a solo job to Juarez. This is a pretty short story, with Otto sending a letter from El Paso to Diana, (the mission is over and he’s on his way back). It’s a mix of supernatural and funny. Otto gets to really play the comic card in his narration. It’s a cute ‘extra’ to the two-novella book.
(nvlla) White Death (April, 1894)
This one starts out a bit differently than all the other stories in the series. But the reader knows something is up, seeing the names Melas, and Pycroft. If you don’t recognize them, then you might want to crack open a copy of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. And specifically, “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk” and “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” I only have a passing familiarity with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I’m guessing Nurse Rosenkoetter owes something to Nurse Ratched. On the surface, at least. Two bodies have turned up and the boys are undercover at an asylum. I’ll let you guess who is the patient, and who is the clerk.
(nov) Hunters of the Dead (May, 1894)
The Double-A Western Detective Agency takes on a job providing muscle for one of two scientists digging up dinosaur bones in Wyoming. There’s friction, as Otto and Gustav’s employer was formerly chief assistant to the other scientist. When another scientist turns up dead in an excavated pit, the stakes are raised. Competing parties, complex personalities, and some puzzle pieces that don’t fit, give Gustav another opportunity to emulate Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes on the Range – 2006
On the Wrong Track – 2007
The Black Dove – 2008
The Crack in the Lens – 2009
The World’s Greatest Sleuth! – 2010
Dear Mr. Holmes: Seven Holmes on the Range Mysteries – 2011
- Dear Mr. Holmes – 2003
- Gustav Amlingmeyer, Holmes on the Range – 2005
- Wolves in Winter – 2006
- Dear Dr. Watson – 2007
- The Devil’s Acre – 2008
- Greetings from Purgatory! – 2009
- The Water Indian – 2010
The Double-A Western Detective Agency – 2018
Hunters of the Dead – 2023
Partners in Crime: Five Holmes on the Range Mysteries – 2023
- Partners in Crime
- My Christmas Story
- Curious Incidents – 2020
- Bad News
- Catch the Rat
Black List, White Death: Two Holmes on the Range Novellas – 2023
- Black List
- White Death
- El Paso: Expense Report
Enchantress – 2024
Other Holmes on the Range Posts
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.