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RAFFERTY'S LAST CASE
by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press, April 2022
384 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 151791311X


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RAFFERTY'S LAST CASE, the ninth and last of Larry Millett's richly descriptive, fast-paced, unguessable series of Sherlockian spinoffs, explores the most intriguing secrets of late-nineteeth and early-twentieth-century Old Saint Paul's. Not the London cathedral terminally wounded in the Great Fire, but St. Paul, one of Minnesota's Twin Cities, as well as surrounding environs. Our tour guides are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who, as previous Millett novels have shown, get on among friendly but duplicitious Midwesterners rather well. They are joined by another amateur consulting detective, Shadwell Rafferty, sometime of Boston, who shares Holmes's methods without his cultural tics. In RAFFERTY'S LAST CASE, as the title suggests, Rafferty turns up dead, murdered in the progress of his final investigation. Who did it? Are the cases connected? Can Holmes solve Rafferty's last case - and to do so, does he need Rafferty's posthumous help?

Assisting and encouraging Holmes and Watson in their melancholy sleuthing is Rafferty's longtime friend Wash (that is, George Washington) Thomas, an African-American restauranteur who came to the Midwest with his wife Pats as part of the Great Migration, one of the most important barely-told stories in American history. (Want to know more about it? Read Isabella Wilkerson's eloquent history THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS.) Refugees from the KKK's South, Thomas and Pats have founded a restaurant in St. Paul, but also find plenty of corruption and decay--some of which Rafferty was looking into at the time of his death.

The central mystery, the one he was investigating, sounds like very canonical Sherlockiana. To start with, there's a dashing blackmailer, upper crust people with dreadful secrets, and gangster activity. However, unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who tended to suggest that the worst of London's chaos came from the world beyond, and typically, from the United States or India, Millett locates fatal hypocrisy in the very fabric of 1920s St. Paul--a world that we know will be swept away anyhow by the imminent stock market crash.

Millett tells two interwoven tales: Holmes, Watson, and Thomas's investigation of Rafferty's death, and Rafferty's investigation, leading up to that death. This is a riveting plot structure that never reveals too much and gives the novel an epic feel. Millett clearly has Victor Hugo or Eugene Sue's sense of when to stop the chapter and what makes a great cliffhanger--a talent that Doyle didn't possess himself, actually. When the tales converge with Rafferty's last goodbye, it's poignant but not maudlin--and it doesn't resolve all the loose ends, so you'll want to keep reading. A trenchant critique of the kinds of delusion and hatred that the Midwest has yet to eradicate and a love letter to St. Paul, RAFFERTY'S LAST CASE is a must-read for Sherlockians, Minnesotans, and a lot of other readers.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, April 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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