Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon - Larry Millett

1996; 315 pages.  Genre : Holmesian Mystery; Historical Fiction.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    James J. Hill is a very rich man.  He owns a railroad that services the logging industry in Minnesota, north of St. Paul.  To boot, he owns most of the surrounding forest.

    But someone who calls himself The Red Demon wants to ruin him.  By burning down his forest.  And his railroad.  And the entire town of Hinckley, where his business is centered.  And all the inhabitants therein.

    James J. Hill doesn't know who the Red Demon is, or why he's so mad at him.  But he can afford the very best detective in the world to figure it out.  Sherlock Holmes.  And his associate, Dr. Watson.

What's To Like...
    Larry Millett lives in the Twin Cities area, used to work for the St. Paul daily newspaper, and has researched its history and written extensively on it.  So the "historical" part of Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon is a masterful thing.  Bringing Holmes and Watson to Minnesota in the 1890's is a bit of a stretch, but via copious notes and an amusing fictional Introduction, Millett renders it plausible.

    The case itself is so-so.  Nothing as complex or mystifying as, say, The Case of the Speckled Band.  But it kept me guessing throughout and had a logical resolution.  The pacing is good, and the cast of suspects, if not engaging, are at least diverse and equally suspicious.

Kewlest New Word...
Porte Cochere : a carriage entrance leading thru a building or wall into an inner courtyard.

    "You've had a chance to read the letters, Watson.  Tell me, what do you think?"
    "They are the work of a demented mind," I said at once.  "It is my opinion that we are dealing with a madman!"
    "My dear Watson, your command of the obvious is, as always, nonpareil," Holmes said in a mocking manner which I did not find amusing.  "Of course, the person who would write such letters is quite mad.  But the world is full of madmen, and the problem before us is this: What do these letters tell us about this particular madman?"  (pg. 28)

    "Holmes. It is you!"
    "Who did you think it was?" Holmes replied with a smile.
    "The devil," I admitted groggily, for my mind was still somewhat tangled in the cobwebs of sleep.
    Holmes, who obviously took my remark as a compliment, laughed and said, "I have always thought the devil must be a most interesting fellow, with a fine criminal type of mind, and perhaps one day I shall meet him.  But I assure you, Watson, that when yout time comes, it will be St. Peter and not the Prince of Darkness who shall greet you in the great beyond."  (pg. 224)

"If the best evidence of your senses leads you to believe that a thing is impossible, then it probably is."  (pg. 75)
    There really was a James J. Hill; there really was a town called Hinckley; and it really was subject to a great fire in 1894 that claimed hundreds of lives.  Which is not a spoiler, since Millett mentions it in the Introduction.

    Arthur Conan Doyle can rest easy - he's still the master of writing Sherlock Holmes fiction.  Larry Millett won't knock him from his pedestal, but this is a decent effort nevertheless, and I've seen worse.  See here, for example.  We'll give SHatRD 7½ Stars, a bit more if you like Minnesota history.


buddy2blogger said...

Nice review of the pastiche. I need to check this pastiche out. I liked "The House of Silk" by Anthony Horowitz.

Have you read the book "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies. This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.


Hamilcar Barca said...

thanks for the comments, B2B. i've yet to find a modern Sherlock Holmes author who can hold a candle to ACD. but maybe Anthony Horowitz can change that. i'll give him a try.