A Q&A With Holmes on the Range’s Steve Hockensmith

A Q&A With Holmes on the Range’s Steve Hockensmith

So, I’ve long been a fan of your  Holmes on the Range series. Two weeks ago over at BlackGate.com, I did a deep dive into it for my weekly Monday morning column. Last week, it was a spoiler-free, comprehensive chronology of the series. Along with a publication timeline. I think it’s the only all-inclusive, current one out there. Thanks for your input.

And you’ve agreed to a Q&A to wrap up our coverage of the series. Thanks again!

QUESTION – You wanted to sell more stories to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and you saw the annual Sherlock Holmes issue as a way to do that. But you didn’t want to ‘just’ write more standard Holmes. How did you hit on the idea of Gustav and Otto?

Before I start blathering on about myself, I want to pause to thank you for all the attention and positivity you’ve been lavishing on the Holmes on the Range books. It is much, much appreciated!

Now — on to me!

I love Sherlock Holmes, but when I was thinking about writing something Sherlockian for Ellery Queen I just couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of a Holmes pastiche. So many other writers do them so well. Did the world really need me to give it a try? Especially when what I think are my strong suits — my voice and humor — feel so very American. So I tried to think of American characters who’d be inspired by Dr. Watson’s stories about Holmes. And when you’re thinking about fun, interesting, late 19th century Americans, naturally cowboys come to mind sooner or later.

I needed two of them because (as Arthur Conan Doyle could tell you) that’s what works best for these kinds of mysteries. If the reader sees the world through the eyes of the master detective, it’s a lot harder to build in surprises and give people the satisfaction of putting the puzzle pieces together themselves. It’s better if you observe the detective through a narrator who sees everything but doesn’t put all the pieces together. So as I was thinking about the first story it became clear that I needed a Holmesian genius with a loyal companion who’d tell us about him. And if they’re going to be cowboys who need a good reason to stick together through (I hoped) multiple adventures, why not make them brothers?

Et voila: Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer were born.

QUESTION – You’re clearly a Sherlock Holmes aficionado. And I see a little of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe in Gustav’s grumpiness. Are you a Wolfe fan?

I am indeed a big fan of the Nero Wolfe books. I pick one up every four or five months. They’re great palette cleansers. When you’ve just finished Blood Meridian you can either throw yourself off a bridge or pick up Champagne for One and put a smile back on your face.

Old Red and Wolfe do have a lot in common, some of it by coincidence (like their discomfort with women) and some of it by design (such as Wolfe expressing annoyance with “Pfui” and Old Red with “Feh”). I love the world Stout created for the series — the cast of recurring characters and the feeling that Wolfe and Archie are always one check away from going broke. Those are elements I’m ever-so-slowly building into the “Holmes on the Range” series. Thanks for the inspiration, Rex!


QUESTION – It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, I get a sense of James Garner’s Jim Rockford (or less-so, Brett Maverick) in Otto. I can see that chagrined smile; trying to use a little charm: maybe as he tries to defuse a potentially violent situation. Did you intend to infuse a little James Garner? Maybe from one of my favorite Westerns, Support Your Local Sheriff?

Wow — good eye on the influences! That’s so insightful I hadn’t even seen it myself. But you are 1,000% correct: There’s a lot of Jim Rockford in Otto.

The great thing about Rockford is that he’s cool but he’s human. Sometimes his charm works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes he gets to punch the bad guy, sometimes (more often, actually) he gets the #@%* kicked out of him. He’s not James Bond, and he knows it. If he has to do some fast talking or wriggle out a bathroom window to avoid a fight, he’ll do it, and so would Otto. They’re peas in a pod.

I also love Support Your Local Sheriff, and Garner’s great in it, of course. Sigh. I miss the days when a Western could be fun…


QUESTION – Of course, you have other writing projects, but the boys took a break from 2011 to 2018. Then there was a new novel (The Double-A Western Detective Agency). And there were also a few short stories, but things were pretty quiet for them for about a decade. 2023 saw a new novel, a short story collection, two novellas, and a couple more short stories. What prompted you to go full-on with Old Red and Big Red again?

COVID. Really! I burned out on traditional publishing about a decade ago — even my successes had a way of turning into disappointments eventually — but I decided to give it one more go a few years ago. So I wrote a middle grade novel and gave it to my agent just as the pandemic hit. And it went absolutely nowhere. Not only could we not sell it, I don’t think a single editor even read it. We got zero responses. Zip. I may as well have written a book and thrown it down a well.

I’d already been bummed about the state of the world for a while, and more and more over the years Westerns became my preferred escapist entertainment. I couldn’t handle the here and now, so I wanted to go there then. So after the debacle with the middle grade novel, I said, “Screw it. The world’s ending. I’m gonna have fun while I can.” And I wrote a Western action-adventure novel called Hired Guns — a spin-off from the Holmes on the Range series — because it was exactly the kind of book I wanted to read. And that eventually led me to Wolfpack Publishing and their imprint Rough Edges Press. They’re bringing Hired Guns and a sequel out in the Fall. But what they really wanted was for me to revive the “Holmes on the Range” series with them. Hey — who was I to argue? That sounded like fun, too!


QUESTION – The short story “Enchantress” is in the current issue (January/February) of Ellery Queen. Are there more adventures for the brothers in the works?

Absolutely! I started a new story about the guys but had to table it to finish the Hired Guns sequel, which is due July 1. I’ll pick it up again after that. Then I’m probably going to begin working on Holmes on the Range novel #8. I already know the setting and have a vague idea of the plot. If all goes as expected (which does occasionally happen) I’ll have it finished by the spring of 2025. We’ll see where things go from there. But as long as I’m still writing, I know Big Red and Old Red will be in the mix one way or another.


QUESTION You self-published The Double-A Western Detective Agency: having previously been with Minotaur Books. Now you’re publishing through Rough Edges Press. Could you talk a bit about the journey you’ve taken in getting your books in print?

The first decade of my novel-writing career I did things the old, expected way. I jumped through hoops to get an agent then wrote books for traditional publishers. That worked for a while, but as noted above I eventually grew frustrated with it. The ups were fun, but the downs…not so much.

I was intrigued when self-publishing got hot 10 or so years ago, so I gave it a try with The Double-A Western Detective Agency. I was actually pretty happy with the results: People responded well to it (it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly), and I made more money than I had from my last publishing contract. But then I got distracted by other projects, including the middle grade novel that died such an ignominious death. I could’ve gone back to self-publishing, but I wanted to try something different first. My friend Paul Bishop is the acquisitions editor for Wolfpack, a new and nimble publisher out of Las Vegas that specializes in ebooks and genre fiction. So I started talking to him about it, and he hooked me up with James Reasoner, who was the editor for the Rough Edges imprint at the time. He was enthused about relaunching the Holmes on the Range series, so how could I not be?

I’m really pleased to have found my way to Rough Edges Press. The new covers they created for the old Holmes on the Range books are everything I’d hoped they’d be, and they gave me complete creative freedom with the new books. I’m hoping it’s a partnership that lasts a long time.


QUESTIONWhat are your favorite Holmes stories?

It’s “The Red-Headed League” for the short stories and The Hound of the Baskervilles for the novels. They’re both so much fun, with some really masterful clues. I especially love the missing boot from The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s so perfect. It seems pretty random, and it happens early enough in the story that you’re likely to forget about it. But after it’s explained later you’re like, “Ohhhhhh! Of course!” Well done, Sir Arthur — you’re an example for us all.


Thank you for sharing. Along with Will Thomas’ Barker and Llewellyn books, Holmes on the Range is my favorite ‘non-Holmes Holmes’ series. You took Holmes in a new direction. Holmes, humor, and Western. You hit the trifecta. I look forward to more of the brothers’ exploits.

My pleasure, Bob! Thanks for the interest and the great questions!

Other Holmes on the Range Posts

Roaming the Old West with Holmes on the Range

Holmes on the Range: A Complete Chronology

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bob_TieSmile150.jpg

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.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
K. Jespersen

Hurrah! Always fascinating to read the story behind the stories. Thanks for conducting and sharing this interview!

K. Jespersen

Definitely very cool about the spin-off upcoming! The environment he has created(? Adapted? Never sure which to say for westerns) to surround his characters is an enchanting one, and a spin-off will allow for greater exploration of it.

Nero Wolfe is definitely a fun one. The concept has spun off several competitions to write mysteries and solve them from a closed room, rather than everything in a closed room, but none of the results I’ve read do it with quite the panache of Nero Wolfe. Have you read anything that can adequately take up the torch?


The Holmes on the Range novels are great! I did not think of James Garner’s characters as influences, but now I see it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x