RogerBW's Blog

Femme Fatale, Carole Nelson Douglas 18 June 2017

2003 historical mystery, seventh of Douglas's novels about Irene Adler. Goaded by the scandal-mongering reporter Nellie Bly, Irene travels back to New York to look into a past of which she has little memory… but someone seems to be killing people who figured in it.

This book is back on form. When Douglas restarted this series after a seven-year gap, she seems to have tried to vary the format, by having Irene's Watson-figure and chronicler, Nell Huxleigh, first excluded from Irene's investigations and then separated from her. Now they are working together again, and the result is a restored levity of tone that prevents the grim subject matter from becoming overpowering.

The major theme here is vaudeville in New York in the 1860s, which is already strange enough that each new oddity doesn't produce the usual feeling of "oh, that must be the author showing off a bit of research", which sometimes spoiled the earlier books.

Ongoing plots go on pleasingly, rather than being resolved, but of course Sherlock Holmes also travels to New York – and, rather oddly, is given the main role in the unmasking of the villain, having constructed his solution out of the narrative eye. Holmes does play a useful role in the story as well as in the detection, but I think this is just a little overdone.

As an American writer, Douglas must have felt some temptation to put Irene in America earlier: but her reluctance to go there still comes over as convincing, and even though the final volume in the series is also set on that side of the Atlantic I'm looking forward to it.

This is a thickish book but a light and quick experience, and for me it's definitely a return to the quality of the earlier entries.

Followed by Spider Dance.

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