"This case has become a conspiracy of lies"
I started my Book Diet novels 2015 by reading four Sherlockian anthologies during January, which is also the said Great Detective's birthday month, so I thought it only appropriate to finish this year with a Sherlock Holmes novel once more, and this time it's something written by writer Larry Millet. It's the first time I encountered his Holmes series. In fact, I purchased this book by luck while sifting through boxes of a second-hand bookstore months and months ago. I'm always on the look-out for any Holmesian story I can get my hands on so I immediately bought this and knew I had to read it soon enough. And it wasn't a disappointment. Millet's series, from what I can tell, are focused on Sherlock Holmes' travels and subsequent cases in America, and The Rune Stone Mystery is no exception.
Once again chronicled in the first person by his constant and faithful friend Dr. John Watson, this story takes readers into Minnesota where a farmer uncovered what could possibly be a Viking rune stone that would prove that the Vikings themselves have arrived to America before Columbus. If proven true then this could be the biggest anthropological discovery in recent years. Disguised under assumed names of London museum curators, Holmes and Watson traveled to the states, but before they could authenticate the rune stone, the farmer who discovered it had been brutally murdered and the said stone can't be found in his possession! Afterwards, more disconcerting facts and theories begin to surface among the townsfolk, especially the Swede residents. And thus began a thorough police investigation (and Holmes' own deductive process on the side) where certain persons of interest have more to conceal than anticipated, and the key in solving this disturbing mystery might just lie in the late farmer's daughter, the fragile Moira "Moony" Wahlgren who may have a developmental disorder, and whose life is endangered because of her connection to her father's presumably hoax of a rune stone.
If the rune stone is indeed a hoax then who could possibly benefit from it? Who could be held liable if the artifact was discovered and proven false? What lengths would concerned parties will go just to ensure it's not revealed to the public? What happens if the rune stone is indeed the true thing--why kill for it? Holmes and Watson try to unravel this tangled web of conspiracies as best as they could, only to find more threads that don't make sense and even mislead.
With a daring and riveting narrative that definitely captures Conan's own style, this novel also has enough memorable characters to keep readers very invested in the resolution of the case and the sideline conflicts of its characters, but of all of them, Millet also included a unique character of his creation named Shadwell Rafferty, an inquisitive and charismatic Irish saloon owner who knew is way around America, and has assisted Holmes in other cases featured in Millet's previous novels. Rafferty's rapport and chemistry with both Holmes and Watson is refreshing and enjoyable, and he provides a great contrast to Holmes' own brand of cleverness. Rafferty is also a talented investigator, and his insights and warmer approach to things and people lend a more human touch to the art of deductive reasoning which even Holmes welcomes, seeing as Rafferty definitely assists than hinder. I liked how he made passages of chapters very entertaining and humorous at times.
Another intense and curious character is the villainess Mary Comstock whom Holmes even compared to Professor Moriarty which is both the highest and most perturbing compliment the great detective could ever assign to anyone. She's essentially a female arch-enemy, a rare type of woman whom Holmes described succinctly, "has no need for men in her life but finds uses for them every now and then". She's portrayed to be wicked and without remorse, and her interest in the rune stone is a puzzling one, something that Holmes was determined to find out before she ends up a few more steps ahead of him in the game. Their interplay as detective and criminal is noteworthy and even Watson is mesmerized by it. I was also heavily invested in the child Moony's involvement since from the beginning I knew she had a critical role to play in the events later on.
Anyone who would attempt to write a Holmesian novel should make sure it's always engaging and thrilling, filled with characterizations that ring true from the source material. It also has to branch out and include more details and depth to what was established by Doyle, always both mentally challenging and entertaining for readers like myself. Although at first I wasn't that intrigued with the rune stone case, the way the mystery unfolded and the players who are involved have acted or been disposed of had won me over eventually while midway through reading. Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery had been captivating and earnest in its portrayal of the Great Detective and the loyal doctor, and the mystery and detection were satisfying during the process of the case, and as readers reach that unexpected conclusion, they would be pleased that they stuck around long enough to see it all the way through the end. I'm certainly going to try and find more Millet books after this one.