RogerBW's Blog

Good Night Mr. Holmes, Carole Nelson Douglas 14 October 2015

1990, first of Douglas's novels about Irene Adler, opera singer, adventuress, and foil to Sherlock Holmes.

Rehabilitative fan-fiction. I suppose that's a thing. In A Scandal in Bohemia, the first Sherlock Holmes short story, Irene Adler was a blackmailing adventuress, clearly no better than she should be. Douglas, noting that the post-Doyle novels of Sherlock had exclusively been written by men, decided to try to develop her as a more interesting character.

As with Isaac Asimov's The Ultimate Crime, this sometimes feels like an application letter to the Baker Street Irregulars; an afterword explains how there could be a "King of Bohemia" at a time when the country was firmly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and deals with various inconsistencies in the original story.

This Irene Adler is deliberately a mirror of Holmes. He is a detective with music as a hobby; she is a singer with detection as a source of spice in her life. He has as his chronicler Doctor Watson; she has Penelope Huxleigh, a parson's orphaned daughter come to London in search of employment.

But there's also rather more period detail than Doyle allowed into what were after all contemporary stories. Adler and Huxleigh interact in a minor way with Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Antonín Dvořák; they search for jewels lost in the overthrow of King Louis Philippe, not so very far in the past; they deal with Tiffany the jeweller. This sort of thing needs a fine touch, and gets it; any claim of influence on the course of history is a minor one.

This is also quite a bitty story, with two major plots and several short and minor ones wrapping round each other; the rise in tension is driven primarily by the approach of events from the original work, and in some ways this works more like a collection of short stories than like a novel.

However, the great thing about this, compared with many other post-Doyle treatments of Irene Adler, is that she remains consistent with herself: she is not a mere romantic prize to be bestowed on Holmes, but someone who contests with him on his own level, both in the jewel-hunt and in the confrontation over the matter of the King of Bohemia. She takes a different approach, being more social and less prone to solve problems by exacting reasoning, but it still one that works.

It's all a bit, well, introductory, as a story more of developing female friendship than of action, romance or adventure by gaslight. But I enjoyed it, and there's always a sense of the ridiculous lurking in the writing.

"Be of good cheer; there is always a way out of a trap; observe the humble mouse."

"I have observed the humble mouse—decapitated!—many a time."

"Only the dull ones, Nell. Only the dull."

Followed by Good Morning Irene.

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Series: Irene Adler | Next in series: Good Morning Irene

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