It all begins familiarly enough: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are summoned to the aid of Queen Victoria in Scotland by an encrypted telegram from Holmes' brother, Mycroft, a royal advisor. Rushed northward on a royal train they soon learn of the brutal killings of two of the Queen's servants who had been working on the renovation of the famous and forbidding Royal Palace of Holyrood.
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' mind the terrible murder of "The Italian Secretary", David Rizzio. Only Rizzio was murdered three centuries ago.
Told with his unique feel for historical detail and the architecture of human evil, Caleb Carr's brilliant new offering takes the Conan Doyle tradition to remarkable new heights.
©2005 Caleb Carr; (P)2005 Simon & Schuster Inc. AUDIOWORKS is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"The gloomy aura of Edinburgh, particularly the Gothic pile of Holyrood, is a perfect foil for a Victorian mystery." (Booklist)
"The novel captivates" (Publishers Weekly)
Confession: I am a Holmes buff. I love reading and re-reading stories from the canon, and have many audiobooks of ACD's stories read aloud by the likes of Robert Hardy and Ben Kingsley. Caleb Carr has avoided all the pitfalls of those who would attempt to add to the Holmes lexicon. His characterizations ring true, the relationship of Holmes and Watson is authentic, and (dare I say it) he even elevates the genre with this addition. No review would be complete without mentioning the outstanding performance of the narrator. He moves between Holmes, Watson, Scottish lasses, and Punjabi grocers effortlessly. Outstanding production overall, and one that I intend to enjoy again several times.
Simon Prebble is a fantastic narrator and Caleb Carr really does justice to Conan Doyle's characters. An excellent listen!
Tell us about yourself! I am a former high school history teacher and now, a semi-retired physician assistant.
Caleb Carr has written two superb mysteries, "The Alienist" and "Angel of Mercy." His take on Sherlock Holmes in "The Italian Secretary" is true to the original Conan Doyle and is read with the proper British intonations. The story is told using the murder of David Rizzi in the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, as a background; this is the best part. The rest of the story just plods along and the bad guys are revealed too soon. The weapons used in the murders are bizarre and unbelievable. It's almost like Lucas' using too many special effects in the latest Star Wars trilogy. Just an okay read.
Reader. Wannabe writer. That's a picture of me standing in line to see Stephen King!
I really enjoyed listening to this story. Prebble, nimbly bringing each character's voice to life, was the perfect choice as reader. The story itself is simple and "popcorn", but what stands out is the banter between the three men--Sherlock, his brother Mycroft and Dr. Watson. There were moments I laughed out loud. If you like wry wit and light suspense then you could do worse than to download and listen to "The Italian Secretary". I just wish it could have been longer.
I listened to "The Italian Secretary" and then listened to it again, for the sheer pleasure of hearing Simon Prebble read it. Prebble doesn't just read the story. He inhabits it. His Dr. Watson is pitch-perfect, his Holmes totally convincing. His Scots accents are spot on, as well. As for the tale, this book may be the first from Carr that approaches the elegance and intricacy of "The Alienist." It's a marvelous period piece that seems to capture stony old Edinburgh perfectly -- as "The Alienist" captured New York. Well done!
In the first thirty seconds I "knew that voice" and it only took a bit to recall my first listen with Simon Prebble (The Egyptologist). Where the only redeeming factor of that audio book was Prebble, The Italian Secretary is a wonderful new tale to add to the Holmes post-Doyle canon.
My husband and I are avid Holmes fans, and truly this tale earns a place with the best. The plot does take a while to unfold, but Carr gives plenty of time to get to know his rendition of familiar characters and even add to the Mycroft Holmes legend.
I highly recommend this story for the family car trip; little ones could do worse than doze under Simon Prebble's voice, and older children will probably find the tale's scarier scenes enough to hold their attention.
Good narrator, appropriate language, all spoiled by one of the sillest plots I've ever read. I've got a six year old child and the books I read to him at night have a more credible story line.
Say something about yourself!
Certain aspects of the story didn't work for me. Part of this is a question of personal taste; I prefer to see all of the secondary characters who orbit Sherlock's star in play, and to observe the unique chemistry that results from this mix. Although Mycroft Holmes receives delightful attention here, Mrs. Hudson receives little, and the Scotland Yarders none at all.
Part of this, however, is due to what appears to me to be a serious shortcoming in the novel. The author apparently intended a great deal of dramatic tension throughout the book to be based on an early concern on John Watson's part, a confusion and fear about Sherlock's seeming change of opinion about the believability of ghosts and supernatural hauntings, and what this might mean about Sherlock's state of mind. (A nod, perhaps, to Arthur Conan Doyle's own perceived gullibility later in life?) A climactic revelation at the end is meant to show where and how Watson -- and, I'm guessing, Carr's imagined reader -- misread Holmes from the beginning. Yet anyone who noted what Holmes said -- well, at least this reader, anyway -- understood from the very start that Sherlock was not professing a new-found faith in ghosts. His diction is quite clear and precise, as always. Thus Watson's constant worry and the final "reveal" become significant obstacles to the story and fall absolutely flat.
There are several aspects of the story I quite enjoyed, however. The sense of atmosphere in the descriptions of Edinburgh's Holyroodhouse (and its bloody history during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots) is quite well realized. The ways in which Holmes and Watson balance each other's talents and gifts comes through nicely. I especially enjoyed Watson's descriptions of the delicate dance between Sherlock and Mycroft, part rivalry, part respect, and part intellectual wrestling match. Mycroft certainly gets his due here. A favorite passage describes how Mycroft "enjoyed complete informality in the Queen's presence": "While he never took advantage of such when he was aware of the presence of others, I did once catch the sight of Mycroft sitting with Her Majesty in one of the castle gardens -- and had the pair been an elderly married couple in Hyde Park, they could scarcely have appeared more completely at their ease."
While this doesn't rank among my favorite pastiches, I'm glad I listened to it. The narration was quite good.
Caleb Carr captures the relationship between Holmes and Watson perfectly. I especially enjoyed learning about Holmes' brother and their relationship. I thought that the reader was great and did voices well. The tale is interesting with tidbits of history, comedy and mystery embedded all over! A nice, quick read!
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