The Italian Secretary

Written by Caleb Carr
Review by Ilysa Magnus

As Jon Lellenberg (the US representative of the Conan Doyle Estate) tells us in the fascinating afterword to this slight volume, Caleb Carr first envisioned The Italian Secretary as a short story intended for a compilation of new Holmes and Watson stories with a supernatural bent. Carr – who writes notoriously hefty tomes – excels in this literary form as well.

Something is afoot in Scotland. With the help of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock and Watson are transported to Scotland to investigate the goings on at the Royal Palace of Holyrood – the palace of Mary, Queen of Scots and the site of the murder of her Italian secretary, court musician, and confidante David Rizzio. Are there really ghostly visitations by the skewered Rizzio? Or is something much more sinister and less spectral happening?

What a delight this novel is! By the time you sit down to read it, it’s finished and makes you desperate for more. Carr has struck just the right notes with that Sherlockian power of observation and has honed the understated brilliance of both Holmes and Watson to a fine point. The pattern and cadence of their interaction is pure Conan Doyle – albeit via Carr. The tone, pacing, wit and atmosphere are perfect. Go read this!