RogerBW's Blog

Irene's Last Waltz, Carole Nelson Douglas 09 May 2016

1994 mystery, fourth of Douglas's novels about Irene Adler; here she returns to Prague, to solve a problem for the Queen. Espionage, the Golem, femmes fatales, and really nice dresses ensue. (Retitled as Another Scandal in Bohemia in recent reissue.)

This story separates itself from the Holmes canon: there's no template into which it needs to fit, though it still doesn't contradict anything in the Doyle stories. That didn't work very well in the second book of this series, but here the characters and plot are strong enough to carry the narrative without needing the gimmick.

There are some historical insertions, most obviously Charles Frederick Worth in the later stages of his career, but they aren't as forced as sometimes in previous books. The dialogue is mostly between Irene, her husband Godfrey Norton, and the narrator Nell Huxleigh, and all of their characters are substantially developed. The first half of the book, before the trip to Prague, may seem a little slow, as it's mostly a comedy of manners rather than a mystery… though clues are inserted too.

The plot itself is multiply-stranded, with seamstresses murdered at the House of Worth, the new Queen of Bohemia wondering why her husband has been so comprehensively inattentive to her, and reports of the Golem being seen again in the streets of Prague. The Rothschilds turn up too, as the shadowy figures trying to keep Europe stable.

The mysteries are reasonably subtle: I turned out to have worked out about two-thirds of what was going on, which is more bamboozlement than most mystery writers manage with me, and I never felt the characters were stupid for not having made the leaps that I had.

There's always a sense of the ridiculous, and of fun: Irene's enthusiasm for life carries one over any rough patches. Not for the hard-core mystery reader, but if you don't mind plenty of amusing observations as well as clues and suspects you may enjoy this as I did.

This is the last of the first wave of the series, though it is followed (a few years later) by Chapel Noir.

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