Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance - Larry Millett

2001; 401 pages (plus 32 pages of notes).  New Author? : Yes.  Book #4 in Millett's Sherlock Holmes series.  Genre : Murder/Mystery.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    What on earth are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson doing in Minnesota in 1899?  Helping their friends and fellow sleuths - Shadwell Rafferty and George Washington Thomas - solve a murder/mystery.  A labor activist has been killed, stripped, and then hanged.  Just to make sure the message is clear, a sign in hung around the victim's neck, reading "The Secret Alliance Has Spoken".  But was it really done by them?  Can our fact-finding foursome get to the bottom of this?  What do you think?

What's To Like...
    The action starts immediately.  We have a body by page 4; and Rafferty is on the case by page 13.  The murder/mystery is nicely constructed.  The solution is neither too obvious, nor too arbitrary.

    Larry Millett lives in the Twin Cities, and takes pains to give you a detailed "feel" for life there at the dawn of the 20th century.  But if historical details aren't your shtick, be of good cheer - most of the minutiae are in notes in the back of the book.  The subject of labor unions vs. industry management is given an even-handed treatment.  Greed has its counter in Extremism; and in 1899, any and all foes are conveniently labeled anarchists, just like today we conveniently call them all terrorists.

    Alas, this isn't the Sherlock Holmes I know.  This one is troubled by his dreams and gets guidance from his premonitions.  Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes would never do anything that subjective.  Also, Holmes and Watson don't arrive on the scene until almost halfway through the book (page 186, to be exact), and there are very few brilliant Holmesian deductions that we all look forward to.

    Finally, there are way too many back-reference plugs for earlier books in this series.  And Rafferty drops his g's with annoying  frequency.  Sharin'; tryin'; doin'; etc.

Kewlest New Word...
Flaneur : an idler; a loafer.

    "Ah yes, Miss Addie O'Donnell, the outspoken friend of the workingman.  Have you gone through her place yet with your usual destructive thoroughness?"
    "No.  We do that and she'll raise a big stink in the newspapers."
    "True.  The First Amendment is a constant bother, isn't it, Dolph?  If the Founding Fathers had only started with the Second, our lives would be immeasurably easier."  (pgs. 32-33)

    "Am I callous?  Perhaps, but the reality is that I can do nothing about the accident any more.  Nothing.  I can only accept that what happened was part of God's plan."
    Rafferty had found that when people spoke of "God's plan" they were usually referring to someone else's misfortune, thereby confirming their own lofty status before the Almighty.  (pg. 230)

"Spite, you see, can be a form of idealism."  (pg. 77)
    Larry Millett's Sherlock Holmes will not supplant the original.  Ditto for the mystery itself, and the investigative techniques used to solve it.

    Which is a shame, because based on its own merits, this story is quite good.  If you edit out the two Englishmen (they aren't really necessary except for name-dropping), and rename the book "Shadwell Rafferty and the Secret Alliance", you avoid the inevitable comparison to Conan Doyle, and have yourself a very good historical murder-mystery.  This story rates 8* without Holmes, but only 4* with him.  That averages out to 6 Stars, so we'll go with that.

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