Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Alliance


Millett has written three earlier books in this series, and if you thought that by now he’d have run out of ways of getting Holmes and Watson out of England and into Minnesota, where their American friend Shad Rafferty lives, you’d be wrong. Opening this one is the lynching of a white man near an abandoned mansion in Minneapolis, with a placard on the body proclaiming it to be the work of the Secret Alliance, a local organization notorious for its vicious anti-union activities. Rafferty, a saloonkeeper by trade but also known to work as a private investigator, is asked to “help” the police along.

Holmes and Watson, visiting in New York and assisting only by letter, finally make their appearance about halfway through. It’s a lengthy tale, made even longer by three or four footnotes per chapter. They can be skipped, but they add considerably to the factual information already provided about turn-of-the-century life in Twin Cities area, especially the early days of the flour milling industry.

The result is a not always satisfying blend of history and mystery. If you’re primarily a fan of detective fiction, you’ll probably start to resent the constant intrusions. It takes one long final chapter plus an epilogue to tie together the loose threads of criminal plot, which also includes a (fictional) attempt on President McKinley’s life. For those of a historical bent, there’s plenty of information here that you won’t find in textbooks, including quite a few things not considered proper for schoolchildren to know.


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