Listened: A Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith, 2009, OverDrive download.
Fourth in the series.
The Holmes on the Range series has never been cozy mysteries but the jocular nature of Big Red's narration has always kept the violence and venality kinda pleasant. There has been plenty of gore and unpleasantness in the three previous novels: forced prostitution, murdered Chinese, a man trampled into mud by cattle, a head bouncing along a railroad track. But the violence in this one takes a darker turn with both Big and Red participants - accessories - in a brutal murder.
Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer are headed to San Marcos, TX. We learned in the last book (I think) that Old Red loved a prostitute, Gertie, in San Marcos who was murdered when Old Red worked at a local ranch there. Since Big Red just sold one of his novels to a publisher and received a $200 payment they head to TX to find the killer.
Gertie's killing was four years ago, and after it happened Old Red tried drinking his trouble away. Upon arrival in San Marcos they discover the town is much more civilized. The whorehouses and most saloons were shut down and drovers are unwelcome. Old Red meets some old friends and clashes with old enemies - namely the two pimps who ran the house his would-be-girlfriend worked at. Old finds one friend, the current Town Marshall, is now an enemy. Old and Big find their presence is unwanted. Big cracks wise.
Old and Big Red investigate. Old and Big learn of other murders since Gertie's. Old and Big Red meet the locals. Old and Red are threatened with lynching. Old is not himself. Old Red is still in mourning for Gertie and still angry that a whore's murder was swept under the rug and ignored by the local law. Big Red cracks wise some more.
Hockensmith introduces a few bad guys and suspects. Old Red is a suspect himself. With some help of Old Red's old friends he and Big Red kidnap a prostitute and the pimps' enforcer, Stonewall, to ask them questions. The prostitute does not mind, Stonewall does mind. Old and Big tie Stonewall to a tree. Old starts a fire and heats up shears to threaten Stonewall with. Old Red is kinda losing it. Big Red is worried for Old Red. The two argue and Stonewall jumps up to escape. One of Old Red's pals is a former prostitute that suffered badly under Stonewall and the pimps. She takes the shears and slashes Stonewall to death. Big Red does not crack wise.
More things happen. Another prostitute is murdered and left in Big and Old's hotel room. Old and Red are arrested. Old and Red break out of jail and find the killer.
1. Old Red is losing it in this volume. Old Red has faked stupid and crazy before but here he is really losing his way due to grief and anger. Old Red is kicking himself for his perceived failures from five years past and for not solving things in the present. Old is very good at "deducifying" but is unable to compliment himself at for the work - he's always kicking himself for missing, or misinterpreting, clues.
2. I often forget that both Old and Red are still in their twenties.
3. Hockensmith quits his past formula a little and focuses differently on Old and Red. He's letting the characters change and interact differently in this one.
4. Gratuitously staid Lutheranism.
5. Webley Bulldog.
6. A nice Jack the Ripper tie-in.