The Italian Secretary

The Italian Secretary

3.0 28
by Caleb Carr

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"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…  See more details below


"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?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Writing a Sherlock Holmes tale is, for popular writers, equivalent to playing Hamlet for male actors: a challenge that few refuse and many regret. Bestselling author Carr (The Angel of Darkness, etc.) acquits himself with honor, though not high honors, in this short novel that pits Holmes, Watson and Mycroft Holmes against conspirators at Queen Victoria's Royal Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, Scotland. When the men are killed at Holyrood in a fashion similar to the slaying centuries before of David Rizzio, an Italian confidant of Mary, Queen of Scots, Mycroft, who is Victoria's head of intelligence, calls upon his brother and Watson to help solve the mystery. Are the killings the work of Scottish nationalists? Or perhaps the sign of a restless ghost? From the latter question, and the novel's primary setting of the dank castle, emanates a well-drawn atmosphere of gloom that makes this story a nice companion to The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes fans and scholars should be pleased with this novel, which generally hews to "the Canon" (unlike, say, Nicholas Meyer's Seven-Per-Cent Solution) and reflects a deep knowledge and understanding of Holmesiana, but the primary base for this novel will be, of course, Carr fans, who won't be quite as thrilled-for while the novel captivates, it matches neither of Carr's previous megasellers in plot invention or depth of character. Still, this should hit bestsellers lists, though not in a major way. (May 10). FYI: The afterword by Lellenberg explains that this novel grew from a story that Carr was writing for a forthcoming Carroll & Graf anthology of original Holmes stories dealing with the supernatural, Ghosts of Baker Street. Lellenberg goes on to plead to Carr that he write a novel featuring both Holmes and Laszlo Kreizler, protagonist of The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When two men are killed during the renovation of the royal palace at Holyrood in Scotland, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are summoned. Mycroft Holmes, the famous detective's brother, is a trusted advisor to Queen Victoria and wants to prevent a possible assassination attempt. Clues point to the involvement of David Rizzio, but the Italian secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered at Holyrood 300 years earlier. Carr seems a natural to try his hand at a Holmes adventure since the psychologist hero of The Alienist, his best-known novel, uses methods similar to those of the consulting detective. As with The Alienist, this book offers plenty of period detail and is written in a slightly stiff style, approximating that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Carr's Sherlock seems a bit vague, with Watson and Mycroft being much more specific and interesting. Simon Prebble, one of the best readers of mysteries, employs a variety of voices and accents to heighten the Victorian verisimilitude. Recommended for all popular collections.-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Will Holmes and Watson foil a regicide plot that seems the work of German spies colluding with Scots Nationalists? Is the queen Victoria? Carr returns to the period thriller genre (The Alienist, 1994, and The Angel of Darkness, 1997) with this sinuous caper, which begins when the Great Detective receives a coded message from his equally brilliant older brother Mycroft, a "solitary intelligencer" and government operative whose duties give him unprecedented access to the royal person. Before you can say, "Kindly serve the tea, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes and Watson are aboard a train heading to Scotland (briefly distracted by bombs tossed into their compartment), where Mycroft discloses the facts about two mysterious deaths. An architect and a workman involved in restoration work at the Queen's Edinburgh retreat Holyroodhouse have perished in frightful ways that suggest the possible presence of a vengeful spirit-that of eponymous royal servant "David Rizzio, private secretary, music instructor, and confidant to Mary, Queen of Scots"-who (Rizzio, that is) was murdered in 1566 by surly Protestants who declared him a papal agent. While never discounting the possibility of supernatural doings (to Watson's intense annoyance), Holmes interrogates Holyroodie's affable caretaker Lord Hamilton, a dangerous-looking butler, and his brood, along with the chaps at the Fife and Drum Tavern, then pieces together scattered clues to uncover a conspiracy rather different from the one Mycroft had suspected. It's fun for about a hundred pages, because Carr apes Conan Doyle's plummy storyteller's voice quite ably, making Watson (who narrates) agreeably bluff and direct. But the successive disclosures becomeincreasingly preposterous, as a very protracted climax incorporates flaming bodies, a (really rather tiresome) maiden in distress, "a medieval siege weapon" -and Holmes's rather lame affirmation of all the things we cannot ever fully explain. We needed this, from Sherlock Holmes? No thanks.
From the Publisher

“Intriguing!” —Booklist

“The Italian Secretary captivates.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.76(w) x 4.08(h) x 0.96(d)

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Chapter I

on deposit at cox’s bank

The published compendium of the many adventures that I undertook in the company of Mr. Sherlock Holmes contains only a few examples of those occasions on which we entered a variety of service that no loyal subject of this realm may refuse. I refer to cases in which the calls to action were delivered by various government ministries or agents, but in which our true employer was none other than that Great Personage whose name has come to define an age; herself, or her son, who has already displayed some of his mother’s capacity for imprinting his name and character upon his era. To be plain, I refer to the Crown, and when I do, it must surely become more apparent why the greater portion of my accounts of such cases has come to rest—perhaps never to be removed or revealed— in the tin dispatch-box that I long ago entrusted to the vaults of Cox’s Bank in Charing Cross.

Among this momentous yet largely secret sub-collection, perhaps no one adventure touches on more delicate particulars than that which I have identified as the matter of the Italian Secretary. Whenever I joined Holmes in attempting to solve one of his “problems with a few points of interest,” it was an odds-on wager that lives would ultimately hang upon the outcome of our efforts; and during several such endeavours, no less than the continuation in power of one political party or another—or even the physical safety of the realm itself—was also exposed as having been at risk. But at no other time did the actual prestige of the monarchy (to say nothing of the mental peace of the Queen Empress herself) rest so perilously upon the successful conclusion of our exertions as it did during this case. The reasons underlying such a bold claim, I can relate; that those particulars will strike any reader as entirely credible, I can no more than hope. Indeed, they might have seemed, even to me, no more than fevered imaginings, a series of dreams inadequately separated from the waking world, had not Sherlock Holmes been ready with explanations for nearly all of the many twists and developments of the case. Nearly all . . .

And because of those few unresolved questions, the matter of the Italian Secretary has always been, for me, a source of recurring doubts, rather than (as has more generally been the case regarding my experiences with Holmes) reassuring conclusions. These doubts, to be sure, have remained largely unspoken, despite their power. For there are recesses of the mind to which no man allows even his closest fellows access; not, that is, unless he wishes to hazard an involuntary sojourn in Bedlam. . . .

Excerpted from The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr.

Copyright © 2005 by Caleb Carr.

Published in November 2009 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction

is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or

medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Meet the Author

CALEB CARR is the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of The Alienist series, The Lessons of Terror, Killing Time, and The Devil Soldier. His books have been translated into over twenty languages worldwide. He is also a contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and the other series editor of the Modern Library War Series. He was educated at Kenyon College and New York University, and currently lives in upstate New York, where he teaches military and diplomatic studies at Bard College.

JON LELLENBERG, author of the afterword, is the U.S. agent for the Conan Doyle Estate, co-editor of a number of anthologies of new Sherlock Holmes stories written by mystery writers, and the historian of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
August 2, 1955
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Attended Kenyon College, 1973-75; B.A. in history, New York University, 1977

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