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Mysteries: Halloween with Holmes and Watson in Scotland

Updated on August 9, 2015
Holyrood circa 1878.
Holyrood circa 1878.

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

Built beside Holyrood Palace in 1168, damaged in the Reformation. Painted by Jane Stewart Smith in 1868. [Photos this page, public domain.]
Built beside Holyrood Palace in 1168, damaged in the Reformation. Painted by Jane Stewart Smith in 1868. [Photos this page, public domain.]

Classics by Caleb Carr

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

Holyrood Palace and Abbey, 1789.
Holyrood Palace and Abbey, 1789.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. September 1893, in the Strand Magazine; by Signey Paget (1860-1908).
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. September 1893, in the Strand Magazine; by Signey Paget (1860-1908).

Investigating Doctors

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.

Mycroft Holmes

Drawn by artist Sydney Paget for the Strand Magazine, 1893.
Drawn by artist Sydney Paget for the Strand Magazine, 1893.

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 Murder

Click thumbnail to view full-size
"The Murder of David Rizzio" by William Allan in 1833....By John Opie in 1787.
"The Murder of David Rizzio" by William Allan in 1833.
"The Murder of David Rizzio" by William Allan in 1833.
...By John Opie in 1787.
...By John Opie in 1787.

Queen Mary and a Double Murder

Click thumbnail to view full-size
David Rizzio, the Italian SecretaryMary, Queen of Scots.Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
David Rizzio, the Italian Secretary
David Rizzio, the Italian Secretary | Source
Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary, Queen of Scots.
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley | Source

Double Homicide

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.


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.

  • 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

© 2009 Patty Inglish

Comments and Opinions

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    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Delightful Hub. Don White

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      Thanks Don. I saw this on the shelf of my local book store and grabbed it up. Not sorry that I did.

    • Lisa Luv profile image

      Lisa J Warner 7 years ago from Conneticut, USA

      I remember seeing a program on this, but they did not cover all this info. Thank you fore the well wrtten info=)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      I hope I summarized it well enough - If you check out any of the links, you find pages and pages of related history. It's overwhelming, but interesting. Thanks for posting!

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 7 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi Patty,

      Nicely summarized. Again an excellent hub. Enjoyed 1010th.


      Jyoti Kothari

    • Godslittlechild profile image

      Godslittlechild 7 years ago

      I'll have to grab this book and give it a read!

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Great hub as always Patty. This is certainly a great book to welcome the coming of Halloween. It sounds like you enjoyed the book very much. I'll have to peruse it a bit more (not that I don't trust you!) Thanks again.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I remember watching some of the old Holmes movies on TV. This is loaded with information.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      Caleb Carr did a highly entertaining job of this one and I was engaged by the wit among the Holmes brothers and Watson. Very well researched too. I hope you all get a chance to read it.

      JYOTI - I'm on my way to the second 1000, I think :)

      Dohn121 - pretty sure it's in most libraries now if you want to have a look.

    • KJRaider profile image

      KJRaider 7 years ago

      I will check this book out. I love Sherlock Holmes.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

      This is delightful. As a fellow holmesian, I love this hub. I collect sherlockiana and I do have this book... you do impeccable research.

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