The Italian Secretary

The Italian Secretary

3.0 28
by Caleb Carr
     
 

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Caleb Carr's novel, The Alienest, was a blockbuster international bestseller and positioned its author as a modern master of the historical thriller. Now, in The Italian Secretary, Carr reaches back further, to the age of opium dens and Jack the Ripper, when fictional detective Sherlock Holmes made the science of murder as real as the gore on a killer

Overview

Caleb Carr's novel, The Alienest, was a blockbuster international bestseller and positioned its author as a modern master of the historical thriller. Now, in The Italian Secretary, Carr reaches back further, to the age of opium dens and Jack the Ripper, when fictional detective Sherlock Holmes made the science of murder as real as the gore on a killer's hands…

FOUL WHISPERINGS…

Mycroft Holmes's encoded message to his brother, Sherlock, is unsubtle enough even for Dr. Watson to decipher: a matter concerning the safety of Queen Victoria herself calls them to Edinburgh's Holyroodhouse to investigate the confounding and gruesome deaths of two young men—horrific incidents that took place with Her Highness in residence. The victims were crushed in a manner surpassing human power. And while recent attempts on Her Majesty's life raise a number of possibilities, these intrigues also seem strangely connected to an act of evil that took place centuries earlier…

…UNNATURAL DEEDS
For indeed, the slaying of David Rizzio, music master and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots, was an extraordinarily brutal and treacherous act—even for a time when brutality and treachery were the order of the day. Now, the ghosts of Holyroodhouse are being reawakened by someone with a diabolical agenda of greed, madness, and terror as Holmes and Watson set out to trap a killer who is eager to rewrite history in blood...

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312939137
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
05/02/2006
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.76(w) x 4.08(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt

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.

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

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

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The Italian Secretary 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a joy it has been of late for us Sherlockians. Not only has there been a batch of new scholarly Holmes-related books to digest and debate--among them THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES--but we¿ve also been blessed with three very interesting and top-notch pastiches. What makes this trio of recent novels so unique is that they come from unlikely writers, individuals who fall more into the literary category than the mystery genre. I am, of course, referring to the three-headed prong that is Caleb Carr (THE ITALIAN SECRETARY), Michael Chabon (THE FINAL SOLUTION), and Mitch Cullin (A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND). *** As I decided to read all three books back to back, I shall comment on them in the order in which they were read. For better or worse, I started with the one that I believed would be the most satisfying of the trio: Caleb Carr¿s THE ITALIAN SECRETARY. However, while I found Carr¿s book engaging and fun for the most part, I was somewhat disappointed with it. In hindsight, my feelings might have more to do with my high regard for Carr¿s previous novels--such as THE ALIENIST--than it does with the actual quality of his Sherlock novel. In other words, had THE ITALIAN SECRETARY been written by someone else, I might not have found myself feeling it lacked the strength and depth of story that I¿ve come to expect from, yes, a Caleb Carr novel. So putting those thoughts aside, I will say that Carr¿s book is mostly well written and he has done a good job at capturing the spirit, intrigue, and style of Doyle. However, it fell a little flat toward the end, giving me the sense of a rushed job. Even so, both his Holmes and Watson are vivid and quite enjoyable, and I do hope he tries his hand at another Sherlock pastiche, taking his time to draw the story out rather than move it so swiftly to its conclusion. A somewhat slight but worthy read nevertheless. *** Next up was Michael Chabon¿s THE FINAL SOLUTION, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer¿s look at an unnamed Sherlock in retirement, set with World War II as the backdrop. This novella--not novel--is actually quite wonderful and the writing is fluid, lyrical, and overall rather excellent. To be frank, I wasn¿t expecting much from such a slim volume that offered us Sherlock as an elderly gentleman. But I was mistaken. It is an intelligent diversion, and, like Mitch Cullin¿s novel, brings the character into a modern age that somewhat confounds him. If I have any complaints, though, it is that Chabon made a point of never mentioning Sherlock by name (he is simply The Old Man), and, by doing so, skirted the character¿s history and much of his background, making him a bit one dimensional. The shortness of the book, too, didn¿t leave much room for the plot (which is, by the way, very interesting) or other characters to be developed at any great length. Still, there was enough here to hold my interest, and, in its own way, THE FINAL SOLUTION not only compliments Mitch Cullin¿s longer work but its themes and story also function as a kind of extended prologue to the last book in the threesome. A wonderfully written, thoughtful addition to Holmes literature that manages to pack a decent punch in too few pages. *** Poor Mitch Cullin, I thought when I finally got around to his A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND. Besides holding the distinction of being ¿the best American novelist you`ve probably never heard of,¿ his attempt to capture Sherlock followed in the shadows of both Carr and Chabon¿s efforts (although, by comparison, I¿m willing to bet Cullin toiled on his book much longer than either of his contemporaries). And yet, of the three, his vision of Holmes is the most interesting and the best realized. The writing is superb, if not downright poetic at times. Most important to me, however, was that the elderly Sherlock of this novel has been humanized in a very realistic manner but yet, without question, still reads and sounds like Doyle¿s creation. That is no easy achievement, and one that should b
Guest More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with all the other reviewers. I am an avid Sherlockian, and I found the style very convincing (though Holmes was a little too mean and Carr goes a little overboard with the dialogue at times). The 'mystery' is given away far too soon, and there is really nothing left to figure out after the first 100 pages or so. It simply drags out a plot to end the problem. OK, but not great.
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j12345 More than 1 year ago
Probably as good as any of the Sherlock Holmes follow on books. The language was a little forced and difficult to get through for the first part of the book. It either let up in the second half or I got used to it. Too much supernatural stuff to suit me, should have stuck to the traditional sleuthing. Like the original series, it is a short easy read. I would buy any more Sherlock Holmes by this author.
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nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
If I had read the story on paper instead of listened to the audio version of this novel, I might have gone for about twenty or thirty pages before putting the book down and saying to myself, "I'll try reading this another day."

But Simon Prebble's narration of "The Italian Secretary" puts me in mind of the old-time "Sherlock Holmes" radio program, even though he is always mispronouncing Holmes' first name. Those programs were gems, bringing the era of Holmes and Watson to brilliant life. Prebble's narration has the same effect, and while you might not have been able to tell from the printed page, Caleb Carr makes Watson much less of a dullard than Nigel Bruce ever dared dream.

The resolution of this mystery is something of a letdown after the big buildup Carr gives it in the opening chapters, but Prebble's narration keeps the story moving quite nicely, although Carr's "postscript" is something of an anticlimax. I don't know what other novels or non-fiction books Prebble has narrated but I look forward to listening to them.

As for Carr, I think he'd do better to write another sequel to his book "The Alienist".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book, and while it did not resemble the writing of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, it was written by Caleb Carr after all, it was evocative of our dear Sherlock and Dr. Watson especially as performed by Simon Prebble. The recorded book makes up for any perceived deficit in the book itself. His Holmes brothers are a delight and the interaction between them is irresistable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I will admit I'm not a fan of Mr. Carr. I forced myself to finish 'The Alienist' but I had high hopes with 'Italian Secretary.' Unfortunately, Carr's Watson drones on and on in narrative monologue, the dialogue is 19th century but not quite 'Holmes and Watson,' Caleb pulls a cheap, amateur-Sherlockian trick by sending our heroes out of London -- out of England! -- and (I know this is petty but please bear with) even the font size annoyed me. As an English instructor, I know 'font size padding' when I see it and this is it. Holmes's concluding remarks were disappointing in that they showed no Holmesian drive to solve the last little puzzle Holmes may wax philosophical from time to time but he always gets his mystery solved. The capper to this literary sedative was the afterward, in which it is speculated what would've happened if Watson had teamed up with Dr. Lazlo Kreizler instead of Sherlock Holmes. I found it to be simultaneously insulting to Watson's character and an annoying plug for Carr's original work. All in all, a waste of $7.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Though the book is a page turner, the ending was disappointing. It did however combine a good history of England and the Royal Queen while still maintaining a strong detective plot. If you havent' read any Sherlock Holmes books, this is a good one to get yourself familiar with. The book could have easily gone on for another 75 pages. It seemed Carr's laptop was running on batteries and he had to rush the ending, but I would still recommend it. The last chapter somewhat makes up for the weak ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just as disappointing as other reviewers imply - but the upset starts early, on page 9. Carr has Holmes use the term, 'electronic eavesdropping.' Way too early for this usage...check your OED. Carr or Editor Hale should have. It's all down hill from there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel has its high and low points, good but not great. As a Sherlock Holmes story, it follows the canon in terms of its tone and style. Critics arguing against the element of supernatural should read the afterword, which explains the Doyle estate was soliciting these types of stories for a compilation. Some of the Holmes deductions are far-fetched (e.g. the extraction of the Queen's tooth) but fans will allow some license as it is in the tradition. Like The Alienist and Angel of Darkness, the book is too 'talky' at certain points; Carr is at his best in the action scenes. Like the Alienist, the ending leaves the reader feeling unresolved about the story - there is no mano y mano contest of Holmes against the villain. Carr's engaging writing style is back and his theme of sibling rivalry, done so well in his other works, works well with Sherlock and Mycroft. Carrs fans wonder, though- when will he write the next installment of the Alienist series? Soon, we hope!