Italian Secretary, The: A Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes

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9780751537475: Italian Secretary, The: A Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes

Mycroft Holmes, charged with ensuring the personal safety of Queen Victoria, calls on his brother for help when a number of attempts have been made on her life and when two unexplained deaths occur amongst the staff at her Scottish residencies. Accompanied by Dr Watson, Sherlock Holmes goes north by train, examining the few facts Mycroft has been able to cryptically supply. To Watson's bafflement he is sure there is a link between these deaths and the murder in the old royal apartments at Holyrood of the secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots: a killing which left a bloodstain that daily refreshes itself and in a room where voices can be heard in the darkest hours of the night. Can Holmes's extraordinary deductive powers solve the historical crime as well as the contemporary one? An original, beautifully crafted mystery story which is also a respectful homage to the master of the whodunnit.

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Review:

Although Sherlock Holmes categorically dismissed, in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," supernatural explanations for corporeal crimes ("This Agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. ... No ghosts need apply"), one of the most popular among Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes tales is The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), in which the fate of a Devonshire family supposedly hangs on the savage appetites of an apparitional beast. More than a century later, in The Italian Secretary, Caleb Carr again presents the hawk-faced consulting detective with a yarn woven of paranormal plot threads, the mystery this time rooted in the fatal 16th-century stabbing of David Rizzio, a music teacher and confidant to Mary, Queen of Scots.

For Holmes and his affable annalist, Dr. John Watson, this spirited escapade begins sometime in the late 19th century with their receipt, in London, of an encrypted telegram from Sherlock's eccentric elder brother, Mycroft, "a senior but anonymous government official." It summons them to Edinburgh, Scotland, where architect Sir Alistair Sinclair and his foreman, Dennis McKay, have been slain in the midst of rehabilitating the medieval west tower of the Royal Palace of Holyrood--the very wing where Queen Mary had lived, and where Rizzio had met his brutal, politically motivated end. Mycroft fears these murders portend new threats against Britain's present monarch--the elderly Queen Victoria, who infrequently lodges at the palace--by a known assassin, perhaps in nefarious league with the German Kaiser. En route north, Holmes and Watson are menaced aboard their train by a red-bearded bomb thrower (supposedly a rabid Scots nationalist), only to discover that still greater dangers await them, and others, at Holyroodhouse. The plaintive drone of a weeping woman, cruelly punctured and shattered corpses, a pool of blood "that never dries," and a disembodied Italian voice with unexpected musical tastes all imply the wrath of wraiths behind recent atrocities. But Holmes and Watson deduce that greed, rather than ghosts, may be to blame.

Carr, who earned renown with his historical mysteries, The Alienist (1994) and The Angel of Darkness (1997), apparently intended The Italian Secretary to be a short story; however, he couldn't stop writing. The result is a fleet-footed, atmospherically gothic, and often amusing Holmes tale (with an exposition scene in Watson's bed chamber that’s truly priceless), but one that makes scant attempt to enhance our understanding of Conan Doyle's characters--a less ambitious undertaking, in that respect, than Mitch Cullin's concurrently published A Slight Trick of the Mind. And while Carr displays a gift here for adopting another author's literary techniques, it is really his own style and series players that his fans are waiting to see more of in the future. --J. Kingston Pierce

From the Back Cover:

Caleb Carr's novel, The Alienist, was a blockbuster international bestseller and positioned its author as a modern master of the historical thriller. Now, Carr reaches back further, to the age of opium dens and Jack the Ripper, when fictional detective Sherlock Holmes made the science of murder as real as the gore on a killer's hands...

FOUL WHISPERINGS...
Mycroft Holmes's encoded message to his brother, Sherlock, is unsubtle enough even for Dr. Watson to decipher: a matter concerning the safety of Queen Victoria herself calls them to Edinburgh's Holyrood House to investigate the confounding and gruesome deaths of two young men--horrific incidents that took place with her highness in residence. The victims were crushed in a manner surpassing human power. And while recent attempts on her majesty's life raise a number of possibilities, these intrigues also seem strangely connected to an act of evil that took place centuries earlier...

...UNNATURAL DEEDS
For indeed, the slaying of David Rizzio, music master and friend to Mary Queen of Scots, was an extraordinarily brutal and treacherous act--even for a time when brutality and treachery were the order of the day. Now, the ghosts of Holyrood House are being reawakened by someone with a diabolical agenda of greed, madness, and terror as Holmes and Watson set out to trap a killer who is eager to rewrite history in blood...

"Intriguing!"
--Booklist

"The Italian Secretary captivates."
--Publishers Weekly

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