Curious Cowpokes 

Steve Hockensmith's Wild West detectives are crazy about Sherlock Holmes.

In Steve Hockensmith's "Holmes on the Range" mystery series, Wild West cowpoke-sleuths Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer idolize the eminent London "deducifier" they call simply "the Man." Hockensmith's latest, The Black Dove, finds the brothers in San Francisco, where their pal Dr. Chan is in trouble and the Anti-Coolie League "will abuse any Chinaman they can get." Chinatown tongs and fishy cops mandate some serious "Sherlockery," narrator Otto explains. Petaluma-based Hockensmith has no Wild West roots himself. "I grew up in the Mild Midwest," says the Edgar Award finalist, "so I can't claim it was because my grandpappy rustled cattle or my mother was the first female sheriff West of the Mississippi" that he started the series. Rather, he says, it "comes down to (a) watching too much TV as a kid and (b) doing a ton of research as an adult. ... I've been on a horse four times in my life, and one of those times I managed to fall off."

If he could go back in time to San Francisco during The Black Dove's era, "I'd be most interested in seeing the Barbary Coast," he says, "but only in the daytime with a squad of Pinkertons as bodyguards. I imagine the place back then as Mardi Gras with even more nudity and a lot more dead bodies." He marvels "that a place that crazy could have existed here so short a time ago, relatively speaking. People sometimes complain about the dirty/sleazy side of San Francisco today, but hoo-mama: They have no idea how nuts things used to be."

Creating the brothers' diction has been a learning curve. "A lot of it comes down to having a feel for how working-class people talk in middle America while also avoiding cornball Hollywood cowboyese — 'mangy varmint' and 'let's rustle us up some grub' and stuff like that. I try to make the language in the books as colorful as possible without crossing over into Jed Clampett territory: You know, 'That boy's as dense as a cee-ment pie' or whatever. Hopefully, I succeed." Set yerself down at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland) 'round about 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21 and find out.


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