One Hit, One Miss

The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr – Not exactly what I expected, but good nonetheless. After all, how can a book featuring Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria and Mary, Queen of Scots be bad? Here’s what the publisher has to say about the book…

“Caleb Carr’s newest tale (commissioned by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) begins when Sherlock Holmes reveals to Dr. Watson an encrypted telegram he has received from his brother Mycroft; the famous detective has been summoned to the aid of Queen Victoria in Scotland. Rushed northward on a royal train – and nearly murdered themselves en route – Holmes and Watson are soon joined by Mycroft, and learn of the brutal killings of a renowned architect and his foreman, both of whom had been preparing to renovate a wing of the famous and forbidding Royal Palace of Holyrood, in Edinburgh.” “Mycroft has enlisted his brother to help solve the murders that may be key elements of a much more elaborate and pernicious plot on the Queen’s life. But the circumstances of the two victims’ deaths also call to Holmes’s mind the terrible murder – in the palace of Holyrood – of “The Italian Secretary,” David Rizzio. The only difficulty? Rizzio, a music teacher and confidante of Mary, Queen of Scots, was butchered before Mary’s very eyes three centuries earlier by supporters of England’s Queen Elizabeth (and perhaps with the approval of that uncompromising ruler herself) in an attempt to break the spirit of the very independent young Scottish Queen.” Holmes proceeds to alarm Watson with the suggestion that the Italian Secretary’s vengeful spirit may have taken the lives of the two men as punishment for disturbing the scene of his assassination. Will these two new deaths turn out to be mere coincidence? Have old political rivalries reared their poisonous heads once again? Or has the Italian Secretary indeed exacted his own terrible revenge?

My opinion? Carr tries too hard to emulate Conan Doyle’s elaborate writing style. I pity the performer who’s hired to read for the recorded book version of this one…he or she is going to have to have quite advanced breath control. Despite the heavy, descriptive text, Carr has produced a story that compares well with the original Holmes stories. Dr. Watson is fleshed out a little more thoroughly than in Conan Doyle’s work, and Holmes’ mysterious brother Mycroft is also given a more complete treatment here, both of which add a nice flavor to the story. This is definitely a must-read for Holmes fans.

And now for the Miss….

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. Let me just say this….AAARRRGGGHHHHH! Awful, awful, awful. Almost as bad as The Gospel of Judas. The book jacket starts off by asking….

“What is to become of a magician’s assistant without her magician?” I answer…”WHO CARES!?!?!”

Very cliched and predictable. Most everyone else I know loved this book. Maybe I was just cranky when I read it, but I don’t think so. This is an example of the pretentious sort of writing that literary critics love but that I guess I just don’t get.