Steve Hockensmith’s humorous western series features two cowboy brothers turned sleuths, Big Red and Old Red, who are inspired by reading Sherlock Holmes. Their latest exploit is The Crack in the Lens (Reviews, May 11).
How did the series develop?
I was trying to dream up a new short story. During a long hike my wife and I took, away from cars and telephone poles and McDonald’s and all that, I was daydreaming about the west a century or so ago, and I realized that the “Wild West” era and the Victorian era overlapped almost perfectly. Wouldn’t it be great to bring those things together somehow? So I wrote a short story about a couple of Sherlock Holmes—worshipping cowboys, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine bought it.
How was writing a novel different?
I really love the instant gratification you get from short stories. You have an idea, you execute it, you bask in the glow of your manifest genius, you move on to the next idea. I wrote short stories for years and got used to the notion that writing could move pretty quickly, with almost no revising. I’ve had to embrace the importance of revisions, because novels are just so damn big, you can’t get to the end of one without having lost focus or gone off on a tangent a hundred times.
What were your own experiences reading Sherlock Holmes?
When I was growing up, my dad would read the complete stories every year or so. While I was fond of Holmes, I was never a hardcore Sherlockian. To this day, I still haven’t read the entire canon. That’s okay, because whenever it’s time to start a new “Holmes on the Range” book, I figure out which Holmes stories Big Red and Old Red will have just encountered, then I read them and make notes, looking for things that would catch the guys’ interest. And in that way, I get to discover the stories alongside my characters.
What led you to set The Crack in the Lens in Texas?
I wanted to give myself a break from the extensive research involved in the previous books. There’d be no exotic culture like the Chinese in San Francisco to delve into this time—just a Texas town in 1893, which isn’t to say I didn’t find interesting things to explore there. To some extent, the book became about the shift from the “frontier” to modernity in the west. There’s a lot of conflict between the cattlemen and the townsmen—the past and the future. And my heroes get caught in the middle of that.