RogerBW's Blog

Chapel Noir, Carole Nelson Douglas 07 February 2017

2001 historical mystery, fifth of Douglas's novels about Irene Adler. In Paris in 1889, the Exposition Universelle is in full swing… but a notorious killer seems to have come over from London.

This is a truly impressive exercise in research, and I can recognise some of the sorts of thing that I put into my own historical scenarios. If Douglas is perhaps a little too pleased with all the historical oddity she's found, well, it's forgiveable, as while there's a great deal of Jack the Ripper lore here there's also plenty of lighter material.

[a suspect]—debased creature!—was in the hands of the French, who are better at locking up madmen than almost anyone, as they have so many. Jack the Ripper would be Frenchified, a fate worse than death in my opinion.

What there isn't is a complete story, so you should have the next volume to hand. Even at a somewhat flabby 148,000 words, from three viewpoints (Penelope Huxleigh the usual Watson, an apparent prostitute named "Pink", and the mysterious partner of the Ripper) the book ends on a cliffhanger with only part of the tale told. Irene's husband Godfrey Norton has been in Prague on business for the Rothschilds, and that business has taken him east… to Transylvania.

(Yes, even though Bram Stoker is a character in the book. There's a significant moment of authorial inspiration for him here, too.)

There's rather more explicit gore than in previous books, which I suppose is unavoidable if one's writing about the Ripper, but it's something of a shift in genre and the characters aren't quite comfortable in this story. Huxleigh keeps being confused by Irene's actions and left out of her investigations, and this makes for a distancing effect which doesn't help an already slow-paced book.

There's good stuff here, particularly concerning the differences between male- and female-led investigations in an era when the sexes are largely living in different worlds, but there's an awful lot of chaff to throw away before one gets to it.

Followed by Castle Rouge.

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