5 Points Book Review: The Italian Secretary

The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

1. One-Sentence Sentence: What if an old Arthur Conan Doyle manuscript had turned up in somebody’s attic or basement and Caleb Carr had decided to submit it as an original “Holmes” story?

2. Op-Ed: While perusing the local used bookstore after seeing the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie, I stumbled across The Italian Secretary, which I had seen described as Sherlockian pastiche. Now that I’ve read it, I prefer to think of it alternately as first-rate fan fiction or a sponsored follow-up similar to Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books. Much like Sanderson’s The Gathering Storm, Mr. Carr was approached by the estate of a famous author with a long-running, much-beloved series. Unlike Sanderson, however, Carr didn’t have voluminous notes and an already mapped out story to work from.

Unfortunately for the sake of my contextualization, the last time I read authentic ACD-penned Holmes was close to two decades ago. Since then, my recollections, opinions and insights on the famous consulting detective have been heavily colored by parodies, various televisual homages and the most recent movie (which I enjoyed the stuffing out of, by the by).

That being said, Carr does an astonishing job at matching style and characterization to Doyle’s versions of both Holmes and Watson. The plot is pretty much boilerplate, in the Hound of the Baskervilles, Adventure of the Sussex Vampire vein (and so is the movie, come to think of it: viz. seemingly supernatural occurrences debunked by deductive logic. Actually inductive logic, but that’s another blog post), but the execution is deft and surefooted to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Carr actually was handed a notebook with Doyle’s notes and outlines.

3. Thumbs Up: The joy of a new Holmes story–complete with marvelously accurate characters, a moody and atmospheric setting and great attention to historical and canon details.

4. Thumbs Down: The plot itself falls on the pedestrian side for Holmes. Though the mystery is interesting for the reader and for dear Dr. Watson, the detective himself comes across as somewhat bored. Plus, it’s not true Sherlock Holmes–no matter how accurate the copy, it’s still a copy.

5. Recommendation: Read it if: you’ve read the four novels and fifty-six short stories that make up the canon, perused the pastiches, watched the movies and played the videogames.

-3 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

Advertisements

5 Points Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Don't worry, that's not Elizabeth

1. One-sentence Sentence: On the whole, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was very entertaining and added a new layer of meaning to the Elizabeth/Darcy melodrama, though it was hard not to feel that some of the weight of the original got sacrificed for the zombie and ninja mayhem.

2. Op-Ed: The amount of zombification (no, not the process of turning into a zombie, the process by which zombies are added to a story as a plot device) was surprising. Despite there being an addition on nearly every page (in one of three categories: zombies/zombie fighting, martial arts training, and Elizabeth’s warrior philosophy), the story was essentially the same. This is exactly how the book was pitched, but I was still sort of surprised to find everything working out in the end. Except for poor Mr. Collins, I guess.

3. Thumbs up: The characters of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Lady Catherine were all improved by the addition of zombie-fighting prowess and martial arts. I especially liked how the kick-assery of the ladies made the battle of the sexes inherent in the story that much more equal. The illustrations were also a great added touch. And finally, the tone and timbre of Ms. Austen is admirably maintained in all the added passages. It really almost reads as a macabre early draft.

4. Thumbs down: Come on, Seth, you couldn’t figure out a way to kill off Miss Bingley? After all, you killed Charlotte, and all she did was try to improve her life. Miss Bingley, the stuck up bitch, should’ve gotten hers in the end, too. At the very least, Kung Fu Jane should’ve beaten her soundly. Also, were the ninjas really necessary? I’m half shocked there wasn’t a scene with pirates or robots to really hit all the points on the Zeitgeist checklist.

5. Recommendation:
Austen fans will most likely enjoy the skewering (and beheading, and evisceration, and pummeling) that their beloved Pride and Prejudice receives. Zombie fans might be a little hard-pressed to fight their way through Jane’s persnickety verbosity. You should read it. If only for the fact that you can prove your literary chops and your pop-culture street cred at the same time. Just don’t read the original and Zombies back-to-back unless you’re prepared for the inevitable regency hangover that follows. -3 Stars-


5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”