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Mysteries: Halloween with Holmes and Watson in Scotland
The Supernatural vs. Reason
The Italian Secretary: A Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes
Caleb Carr; Carroll & Graf Publishers
This book is a welcomed addition to the Sherlock Holmes case files and a rollicking good ghost story for Halloween. It features the Holmes brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, as well as the inimitable Dr. Watson in a double murder mystery and political intrigue at the Royal Residence at Holyroodhouse. It is a delight to see this trio in action, if but for the entertaining amount of intelligent wit rising amongst them.
The interaction of the two Holmes brothers, complete with childhood embarrassments and the special relationship Mycroft has with the Queen of England are quite engaging, reeling in the reader to be shocked by the midnight blood and gore that follow. Turn out the lights in your own castle and read this by candlelight. Ignore the Italian Aria you hear coming from your attic.
Ruins of Holyrood Abbey
Classics by Caleb Carr
First time in paperback, October 27, 2009.
New Life in an Irresistible Series
The beginning chapter of The Italian Secretary is somewhat a shock in that Dr. Watson's vocabulary and thought construction is more intelligent than in previous cases. This is not quite the bumbling medical sidekick we have seen in case files and on film.
This Dr Watson still gives way to the superior detection skills of Holmes - both of them - but has his own fair contribution to make. This character is refreshing and provides an interest to carry on an entire new series of Holmes cases.
Conan Doyle, the creator of Holmes and Watson, himself was a doctor that based Sherlock Holmes upon one of his medical professors. This instructor was a man with unmatched skills in intuition and deduction and one to whom Erle Stanley Gardner might had dedicated one of his mystery novels, as he was wont to do. He likely spurred the continuing advancement of criminology that we enjoy today, as well as did fictional characters like Holmes. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries are to criminology what Star Trek® has been to the sciences.
Conan Doyle's creations would eventually influence the successful launch of the House, MD television series [just think about Holmes/House and narcotic drugs; Watson/Wilson; 221 B address etc.]. No doubt doctoral dissertations are being prepared in this vein right now.
Caleb Carr has ramped up the original characters in an entertaining way in a venue that his background of historical expertise and research abilities have solidified. A professor of military history with a number of non-fiction texts to his credit, he has created a believable story in The Italian Secretary
The doctor-investigator has been featured in books and television before, through the various iterations of CSI, The X Files, Quincy ME, and Diagnosis Murder. Caleb Carr masterfully created The Alienist series, an alienist being an investigator of the psychology that alienates the mental health patient from society and himself.
Again, he has drenched and founded his series in history, making his tales real enough to attracted legions of readers and admirers. His work in the line of The Exorcist and related materials is also well received, making his work even more appropriate for a thrill-seeking Halloween.
Carr's investigating Dr. Kreizler has become immensely popular and the Conan Doyle estate as well as the mystery and suspense reading public would like to see Holmes and Kreizler in the same novel. Jon Lellenberg writes in the Afterward of The Italian Secretary, as the US representative of the Conan Doyle estate, that he hopes that Carr will create such a story.
Italian Ghosts in Scotland
Halloween is traditionally the time for a good ghost story, but this is one for any time of year.
In the 16th Century, David Rizzio, a private secretary and music teacher to Mary, Queen of Scots, was stabbed to death and his ghost seems to haunt Holyrood (Holy Cross) castle in 19th Century Scotland, seeking revenge.
Holmes and Watson receive a coded telegram at Baker Street from Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft, described as "a senior but anonymous government official" and the head of Intelligence. He is also a confidant of Queen Victoria and the Queen may be in danger.
Mycroft meets his brother and Watson outside Edinburgh after their train is attacked by a would-be bomber and a horde of Scottish nationalists. Once at the castle, the trio finds that the source of danger to Victoria becomes muddled. It may be a German desire to off the Queen in the style of the beheaded Mary, Queen of Scots; all drudged up from old political jealousies; or it may be a ghost.
Two Portraits of MurderClick thumbnail to view full-size
Queen Mary and a Double MurderClick thumbnail to view full-size
The dead men int his story were renovating the West Tower of Holyrood, the residential wing where Queen Mary had entertained members of her staff, including secretary David Rizzio. Rizzio was snatched and dragged away, murdered almost before her eyes outside her dining room.
Certain government officials were convinced of a romantic liason between the tow, although Mary was carrying husband Lord Darnley's child. Darnley was murdered in the near future and Mary was later captured in a political coup and beheaded. Murder seemed to still inhabit the West Tower in Queen Victoria's reign as a curse. Midnight footfalls and puddles of blood were still be be heard and seen.
Tales among the local townspeople say that Rizzio, humming Italian opera, seeks revenge for his own wrongful death. Indeed, Holmes, Watson, and the castle staff do hear and see this menacing evidence at work. A never ending fresh blood stain clearly exists a rivalry between two other brothers might result in the murder of yet other people besides the Queen. A pregnant servant is held captive in the West Tower with food and water for days, driven out of her wits by Rizzio. The game is afoot, but so it death, and it's gaining ground.
Is there a ghost, a poltical scheme, or a group of townsmen perpetrating a haunted sideshow at the castle? The possibility of ghosts lingering on earth is given creadance that buolds page by page. Conan Doyle was himself interested in ghosts and an afterlife; Sherlock Holmes, not so much. However, Holmes spokes several times of the power of ghosts in this case.
The power of the belief in ghosts is unquestionable, any time of year.
Historical Links for Mary, Queen of Scots
- Murder of David Rizzio - Renaissance, Reformation and Mary Queen of Scots - Scotland's History
Within a few months of Mary's marriage, Lord Darnley’s true nature became apparent. Darnley proved to be spoilt, obnoxious and violent. He grew jealous of the attention that Mary paid to Rizzio and, encouraged by a group of Protestant nobles...
- Scotland: The Murder of Lord Darnley
At 2 o'clock in the morning the night air was torn by an enormous explosion, and Kirk o' Fields was reduced to rubble.
- The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, 1587
An eyewitness account of the death of the 'star-crossed' Queen
Caleb Carr must have written this book by angel light, if not by ghostly muse --
Suffering from a chronic illness and the loss of his father to death at the time of writing The Italian Secretary. Caleb Carr still wrote.Perhaps writing helped.
Carr set out to compose a short story for a Holmes anthology and could not end it so abruptly. Readers are glad that he continued. Read The Italian Secretary as a companion to The Hound of the Baskervilles for a set of great ghost stories.
Holmes and Watson Links
- The Mycroft Holmes Society
A page devoted to the Mycroft Holmes Society of Syracuse
- Sherlock Holmes - The Sherlock Holmes Museum of Baker Street
Welcome to the Sherlock Holmes Museum - 221b Baker Street, London, England
- The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: A study in white: Dr. Watson in the medical press. View the peer-reviewed journal article at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1295818/
© 2009 Patty Inglish