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The Italian Secretary
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Pastiches, Homages & Parodies > The Italian Secretary: A Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes

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Ken B I was truly disappointed by this novel. I was looking forward to reading it on two fronts. First, as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Second, as an introduction to Caleb Carr. The Sherlock Holmes story fell far short and left me not likely to read anything else by Carr.

To call the novel wordy would be an understatement. It was a full third of the way through the book before we arrive at the crime scene. While I understand that a novel with an historic base will require a fair amount of back-filling to get the reader up to snuff on the facts, the sometimes vicious banter between Holmes and his brother, Mycroft only added page upon page of useless wordiness that Carr seemed to feel necessary. Thirty pages in a hansom between the railroad station and Hollyroodhouse was a bit much, especially after fifty pages on a train.

Sadly, by the end of the novel Carr has managed to paint Mycroft as a bumbling fool, which is far from the character as presented by others.

Where Holmes typically will hold all theories on a crime to himself, often to the frustration of those closest to him, Carr's Holmes seems to take every player in the book into his confidence, leaving very little to the reader to figure out. In fact, the crime was pretty much solved and laid out with a full third of the novel left to go, leaving Carr a third of the novel to weave the most ridiculous, disconnected ending to any Holmes pastiche that I have ever read.

Without spoiling the story for anyone still inclined to bother reading it, I will share the most bizarre part of the chase scene at the climax of the story. After Watson has taken a potshot at one of the story's antagonists and has then been reassured by Holmes that he is still in pursuit, Watson rounds a corner to find Holmes sitting, tuning and playing a lute. WTF? Really? I thought I had missed something and turned back a couple of pages.

I don't know what else I can say about this travesty.

ONE STAR, BUT ONLY BECAUSE I COULDN'T GIVE IT ZERO.


C.O. Bonham (dolphin18cb) | 54 comments Actually you can choose not to touch the star field at all, thus leaveing it blank.

But that is beside the point because I agree with your review that the book was dull and not a very good mystery.

Though I actually did like the very end of the book where Holmes explains to Watson the difference between believing in ghosts and believing in the power of ghosts. I thought it was very interesting statement and can honestly say that there is much truth in it.


Stutley Constable (stutleyconstable) | 12 comments Ken wrote: "I was truly disappointed by this novel."

I certainly agree that Carr's work fell remarkably short of its potential. I was disappointed for other reasons than those you point out, though. It is my firm belief that authors need to do more research when writing period pieces. Get the little things right and the larger things will fit in place more easily.

There were also a number of human behavioral points that struck me as completely ludicrous even granting the mores of the Victorian Era.

To make things worse, the entire climactic showdown was like something out of a bad movie.



Philip Jones (pkentjones) | 12 comments Any author who dares to assume that his readers have an attention span that exceeds fifteen or twenty seconds has succeeded in capturing my attention no matter what the subject pursued. Caleb Carr treats English as if it is tool for the conveyance of precise information and not as if it were a bludgeon to be used to beat the reader into submission. His prose is elegant and precise, with slang terms used to emphasize characterization and to provide particular flavors and tones to conversation.

The narrator is Dr. Watson, not the familiar narrator of most of the Canonical tales, but rather this Dr. Watson is clearly the man who wrote those tales. This is not the hopeless naïf he depicted himself to be, this Watson is bright and thoughtful and a good foil for the genius of Holmes. Yet, under all, he remains the true Victorian gentleman in the best sense of that overworked phrase. He does not comprehend the hubris that constitutes true evil, the sense of self that will not recognize any will but its own. In this, he remains unable to understand Holmes who is well aware of that form of darkness of the soul.

This tale is one that Watson never meant to be published, rather it is a record of events that deserve preservation but are prejudicial to The Crown. It is also a tale of ghosts and murder, with a particularly Holmesian explanation for apparent supernatural events. Even Mycroft is unable to cope and has called Holmes and Watson to investigate murders at Holyrood House, the official residence of Her majesty in Edinburgh. High politics, historical mystery, human greed, departmental machinations and the character of Her Majesty are all combined to present a complex and satisfying new Sherlock Holmes mystery. This story revives the feeling of reading the Canon more than any pastiche I have read (3,000+ and counting), a truly remarkable feat.

Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones; May, 2005.

Published in “The Pleasant Places of Florida Communication,” [07-08/2005].


message 5: by Ray (new) - rated it 1 star

Ray | 11 comments Not a very good story. Boring at times, and just not interesting.


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