The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

The Italian Secretary features Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. This literary pastiche is an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and had the approval of the Doyle estate, although in the Afterword, Jon Lellenberg, the representative of Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., mentions that he and his coeditors had hoped that Carr would bring Holmes and Dr. Kreizler, a protagonist of Carr’s first novel The Alienist, together to investigate a crime. This wasn’t done in the Italian Secretary, but Lellenberg expresses the wish that Carr would eventually write such a book.

Architect Sir Alistair Sinclair and his foreman, Dennis McKay, have been slain in the midst of rehabilitating the medieval west tower of Holyroodhouse Palace – the in which Mary, Queen of Scots, had lived, and where David Rizzio, the Italian secretary, had met his brutal, politically motivated end.

Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, is said to have been jealous of their friendship, because of rumors that Rizzio had gotten Mary pregnant, and so joined in a conspiracy of Protestant nobles to murder Rizzio. The murder was the catalyst for the downfall of Darnley and had serious consequences for Mary.

Mycroft Holmes fears the murders of Sinclair and McKay signify threats against Queen Victoria, who occasionally lodges at the palace by a known assassin, perhaps in league with the German Kaiser. En route north to Holyroodhouse, Holmes and Watson are attacked aboard their private, royal train by a red-bearded bomb thrower (supposedly a rabid Scots nationalist), only to discover that greater perils wait for them, and others, at Holyroodhouse.

Mysterious, spectral events suggest the wreaking of harm by phantoms behind the recent crimes. In their investigation, Holmes and Watson deduce that greed, rather than ghosts, may be to blame.

Holyroodhouse is still the official Scottish residence; Balmoral, a favorite of Queen Victoria, is the private Scottish residence.

It has been a number of years since I read The Alienist, but I remember enjoying it. This book sounded appealing, but I was rather disappointed. The problem with a pastiche (a pastiche is an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period) is that it can be neither one nor the other, so that a reader or observer isn’t satisfied with either. A pastiche can be a way for a beginner to learn by imitation (it is the most sincere form of flatter, after all), but I don’t think it is the best fiction. The consumer of the pastiche tends to compare the copy to the original, usually to the detriment of the copy (at least I do!). Originality, please.

For more information about the pastiche, see


Leave a comment

Filed under Literary Genres, Mystery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s