Monday, January 24, 2011

Goodnight Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas

Goonight Mr. Holmes: An Irene Adler Novel tells the story of Sherlock Holmes' worthy opponent from the short story "A Scandal in Bohemia," Irene Adler. According to the short story, "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman."
The story is told from the perspective of Penelope Huxliegh, the daughter of a country curate, she finds herself orphaned and out of the job in the middle of London. When Irene Adler rescues her from an urchin trying to steal her bag, the two soon become friends and roommates. She is, in a sense, Irene's Watson. Her friend and biographer that helps keep her grounded.
Penelope or Nell is a very interesting and well rounded character in her own right, a good creation on the part of Douglas. She assists Irene, who enjoys solving problems, solving puzzles, and finding missing items for people while she waits for her opera career to take off. Among Irene's friends and clients are historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and the famous jeweler, Mr. Tiffany. Though it's clear that Irene's focus is her musical career, rather than detective work, she has trouble resisting the lure mysteries such as that surrounding a spectacular length of diamonds that has been missing for several generations.
Douglas's novel shows that there were several times when Adler nearly met Sherlock Holmes, their paths narrowly crossing before the events of "Scandal."
The novel creates a rich background to Adler's life before she finds herself involved with the King of Bohemia, how and why she flees his company, and how she tricked Sherlock Holmes and escaped England.
It's a loving tribute to a fantastic character that has captured readers' imaginations more than any other woman from Doyle's canon. Indeed, perhaps it is a kind of literary justice that Adler has been incorporated into so many stories by other authors. The way Douglas presents the story allows her to show the mutual fascination between Holmes and Adler without pushing a romantic relationship between them. However, Godfrey Norton, the man Adler eventually marries plays a big part and also become a much more rounded character than Doyle originally wrote.
Douglas also pulls the classic "I'm not the author, I'm the editor" gimmick, creating the illusion of the story coming straight from Penelope's diaries, and even a few portions from Dr. Watson's journals not previously published. It's a common enough style of presenting this sort of thing- Laurie King does something similar with her Mary Russell series. Douglas's post-script to the novel lays it on a little thick, however.
Overall, a good read for fans of Adler that wish she had been more developed. It is an interesting story that paints a portrait of friendship just as appealing as the classic relationship between Holmes and Watson, but in this case exploring a feminine version of this friendship, between Irene and Penelope.

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