The Italian Secretary

The Italian Secretary

by Caleb Carr

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The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

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…


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…


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...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312352042
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/27/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 119,906
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.93(d)

About 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.


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

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.

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The Italian Secretary 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 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.
heylucy on LibraryThing 2 days ago
A so-so Sherlock Holmes mystery. I enjoyed The Alienist, but this was disappointing
LisaLynne on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Not as good as The Alienist but worlds better than Angel of Darkness. I hope Carr writes more Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
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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".
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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.