Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Magic Bullet, by Larry Millett

The Magic Bullet
by Larry Millett

I've decided to add more locked room mysteries to my reading list in upcoming months. To kick things off I thought I'd start with one that's just been published and then move on to some of the classic works. I'm not sure how many writers are working in this particular sub-genre these days but Millett has come up with one that I'd rank right up there in terms of overall story. As for the locked room aspect, I'm not real well versed in that area, but I'd venture to say that this was a decent one.

Millett has written a number of books thus far in which Minneapolis saloonkeeper Shadwell Rafferty and Sherlock Holmes team up to solve crimes. I haven't read any of the others and it sounds like a weirdo premise, but in this particular case Holmes plays a relatively small role and he is offstage the entire time, communicating with Rafferty by mail.

The story takes place in 1917, in Minneapolis, at a time when the city is being disrupted by various anti-war and labor agitators. Against this backdrop we are presented with the locked room murder of one Artemus Dodge, a paranoid tycoon who has barricaded himself inside a penthouse suite consisting of office and apartment, a setup which would give most bank vaults a run for their money.

I'm normally a bit reluctant to take on any mystery that runs longer than 300 pages (or even 200, for that matter). As I've noted before, brevity is an excellent quality for most works in the genre, but Millett manages to confound my theory with a work that totals 347 pages and doesn't waste any of them. Yes, the solution to the crime is a bit convoluted and requires many pages to explain, but isn't that pretty much the point of these exercises?


  1. I have read a lot of fairly positive comments on this book, which makes me second guess my initial decision to just ignore it.

    It's usually an ill-omen if any contemporary mystery story features Sherlock Holmes (I'm not a fan at all of the fact that every third-rate, fan fiction hack "artist" can put its sweaty paws on the Great Detective and write down one of his so-called un-chronicled adventures) and Frederick Ramsay and Gilbert Adair taught me that the inclusion of a locked room means nothing.

    Nevertheless, this book impresses me as one of those rare exceptions and might have to look into it after all. I guess I am doomed to dwell in the post-GAD era for the time being.

    By the way, has your decision to concentrate more on locked rooms anything to do with the bombardment of such novels on my blog? I think I've done more of them, at this point, than any of our fellow bloggers – and I'm only warming up!

    One book you have to look into is John Sladek's Black Aura, a stunning impossible crime novel, in which a member of a spiritual circle is murdered while apparently levitating in mid-air. It ranks with the best of Carr, Talbot and Commings and is required reading for anyone who loves impossible crimes.

  2. TomCat,

    I actually looked through the extensive locked room category at your site for suggestions of other books to try out. I have a few Sladek works on my list but I will add that one.

    I was a bit skeptical of the Millett book due to the length and the fact that the Holmes/Rafferty collaboration seemed so gimmicky. But I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. I'll be interested to see your comments if you get around to it at some point.