Monday, August 7, 2017

The Italian Secretary


Wait a second... I do book reviews?! What? Shocking, I know. It's been awhile since my last one. As you can see by the lovely picture to my right, I bring you a case from the world's greatest detective. And no, sadly, I do not refer to Batman.

But Fangirl, it's a Sherlock Holmes story that's not written by Arthur Conan Doyle! What kind of trickery is this? Ah, worry not, lovely readers. I have a vocab lesson for you today. The Italian Secretary is what we call a pastiche, a creative work that initiates the work of a certain artist. But where a parody mocks its source material, a pastiche celebrates it. This is a book written by Caleb Carr that's meant to be a homage to Doyle, and was approved by his estate.

Essentially, it's official, legitimatized fan fiction. Which is absolutely awesome, and I totally need to get in on this business somehow.

Now, the premise of this book rests on something that feels completely opposite to everything that Sherlock Holmes represents: a ghost story. Holmes has always stood for rational deduction. Everything has a logical, plausible explanation, even if it initially appears to be fantastic or supernatural. To center the overarching mystery of the book on a local, paranormal haunting means that the reader is just waiting for Holmes to explain away the paranormal happenings as man-made frauds. It eliminates the aura of wonder and fear that ghost stories as a genre create.

As far as the actual plot, it was certainly not what I was expecting. All of my major predictions were wrong in terms of who the villains were and their motives. I was also expecting the ghost story to play a heavier role than it did. And I was expecting more bodies to appear. Instead, most of the mystery unfolded at the rather sedate pace. It felt like there was very little forward momentum throughout the story, like Holmes and Watson were just spinning their wheels until Holmes could reveal just how clever he truly was.

The ending got a little confusing for me. Everything happened very quickly, and a string of amazing things happened one after the other with very little time for the story to breathe. Did Watson actually see the ghost of the hunchback? I have no idea, and it's never mentioned again, even in passing. Did the villain get away in the end? All Holmes said was that we would probably never see the criminal again because "someone" got him. Who was that someone? Was it implied to be the ghost of the tower? I honestly have no idea.

All of our canon characters felt like their original incarnations, which can be a tricky feat. Mycroft was wonderful as the rather corpulent government official. (I'm using all kinds of SAT words today!) John Watson was competent! He was brave, kind, intelligent, and never felt like he was completed dwarfed by Holmes'... well, Holmesness. I live for that, and love it when Watson is just as important to the partnership as Holmes is.

Carr also manages to capture Holme's anti-social, blunt, occasionally manic personality incredibly well. His deductions all made sense, even if they did initially feel like they came out of left field. The one thing that I was not quite as sold on was that Holmes was an ardent believer in the paranormal. That felt very off to me, and I shared Watson's shock and disbelief when he learned that his friend was actually seriously entertaining the idea of a ghost.

All of the new supporting cast was fine. No one was particularly memorable, but they weren't terrible either. They were just kind of... there. They gave Holmes and Watson people to protect in the big finale, which I guess is the important thing?


The history was all really cool. I don't know a lot about Mary, Queen of Scots, so the stories surrounding her were very interesting. Did they go on a little bit too long and mess up the pace of the story as a whole? Yeah, probably. But it was still cool, and as far as I can tell, based on fact. So you get a history lesson with your mystery novel.



No Random Thoughts this time around because I basically managed to fit everything into the main body of the review. I picked up The Italian Secretary for 25 cents at a white elephant sale, so it was worth the price for me. But unless you really love Holmes and Watson and are dying for another adventure with them, I'm not sure how enthusiastically I can really recommend this book.

6.8 out of 10

~An Honest Fangirl 

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