Sekretaris Itali (The Italian Secretary)
Atas permintaan estate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Caleb Carr, pengarang The Alienist, melanjutkan kisah petualangan Sherlock Holmes dan Dr. Watson. Cerita ini dimulai ketika Holmes menerima telegram bersandi dari kakaknya, Mycroft. Holmes dipanggil untuk membantu Ratu Victoria di Skotlandia, untuk memecahkan kasus pembunuhan brutal atas seorang arsitek top dan mandornya yang sedang bersiap-siap merenovasi salah satu sayap Istana Holyrood yang terkenal dan menyeramkan itu di Edinburgh.
Mycroft menduga pembunuhan itu merupakan bagian dari rencana untuk menyingkirkan Ratu. Tapi situasi-situasi yang dijumpai Holmes di sana justru mengingatkannya pada kasus pembunuhan David Rizzio, sang "Sekretaris Itali", yang terjadi tiga abad silam di istana Holyrood. Rizzio adalah guru musik dan orang kepercayaan Mary, Queen of Scots, dan dia dibantai di depan mata Mary oleh para pendukung Ratu Elizabeth dari Inggris, untuk meruntuhkan semangat Mary, ratu Skotlandia yang masih muda dan sangat mandiri itu.
Holmes menyatakan pada Watson kemungkinan pembunuhan itu dilakukan oleh roh sang Sekretaris Itali yang tak senang tempat pembunuhan atas dirinya diganggu oleh kedua korban. Tapi benarkah itu yang terjadi?
Kisah menegangkan ini penuh dengan detail sejarah yang memikat serta plot yang brilian.
Gramedia Pustaka Utama 2008
Jennifer: I had such high hopes for The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr. My husband surprised me with it just after I had started to renew my addiction to Holmes and had read several mentions of it at the Sherlock Holmes Social Network.
Of course, those mentions were not generally favorable, but the setting of a murder at the Royal Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, Scotland sounded so inviting. Here’s the basic plot: After several assassination attempts on Queen Victoria, Holmes and Watson are brought to Holyrood Palace at the instigation of Holmes’ brother Mycroft (who as we know sometimes is the government). A recent assassination attempt, first dismissed as a simple desire for notoriety, now appears as though it might be related to the jockeying of power between England and Germany. At the same time, two men are killed very brutally during renovations at Holryood Palace, the official residence of the monarch in Scotland.
And during the train ride there, Holmes and Watson are attacked by a very inefficient bomber who looks and sounds too much like MacAdder, Edmund Blackadder’s mad Scottish cousin — “the maddest man to wear a skirt in Europe.” The bomber shouts, “We’ll nae let ye muhrder more Scots patriots.”
Add to this mix the story of David Rizzio, an Italian courtier who became the private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was murdered when Mary’s husband Lord Darnley joined a conspiracy of nobles jealous of Rizzio’s relationship with Mary. The murder occurred in Holyrood Palace and supposedly there is a blood stain in a room of a ruined tower — the same tower being renovated — that never dries where Rizzio’s body lay. OK, good stuff, I have goosebumps just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, all these elements are just thrown against the wall to see what sticks, especially a very uncharacteristic Holmes who throughout the entire book seems preoccupied with the supernatural. Now, I enjoy reading books and watching TV and movies about the supernatural, even though I am very skeptical of the paranormal in the real world. But I really don’t like the idea of Holmes courting the supernatural. He is the embodiment of reason; ghosts need not apply. Of course, I have to give allowances because the author originally wrote this story as part of a collection of new supernatural-themed Holmes stories, The Ghosts of Baker Street. But the story grew too large to be included in the collection.
And it shows. There are too many red herrings and long expositions that really don’t advance the plot, especially the cryptic message that Holmes and Watson receive that start the case. It’s true that Conan Doyle often included legends and history that sometimes overwhelmed the main story, but his usual pattern was to deal with it succinctly or at length. In The Italian Secretary, the back stories are just long enough to feel like padding or the author getting carried away.
Despite these critiques, the relationship between Holmes and Watson seems solid. In fact, Watson fairly shines and shows he’s absorbed quite of lot of the master detective’s methods.
And I’m of two minds about the climactic ending, which seems a little too much like Assault on Precinct 13, where Holmes and Watson must defend the palace from an all out assault. At times the action seems gripping and at other times absurd when you realize a royal palace has been left largely unguarded. There is, however, a very logical reason it is unguarded, but it still seems absurd.
Do I recommend The Italian Secretary? Of course I do. Despite the bad taste in my mouth of a Holmes who seems far too gullible and the unnecessary intrusion of a “real” supernatural character in the story (I prefer the MacGyver episode where we hear a bone-chilling howl after our mulleted hero has defeated the large man pretending to be Bigfoot), it’s still a fun read with a great premise. Caleb Carr is a very good writer, this is just a minor but still entertaining effort.
Lisa: It's always difficult when you read a book that an author has written in a style faithful to an original work. There's often a sense of forced effort in bringing that different voice out; it's too easy to go over the top in attempting to recreate a style that is not the author's own.
In this case, Carr does tap into the expected Sherlock Holmes plot points, with the usual conclusions drawn from observation and mentions of previous cases, and the Watson created is generally well done.
Honestly, I don't know why my brain curdled while I read this book. I will confess to being very put off when Carr has Holmes tell Watson at the beginning of the story that he "believes in the power of ghosts". A statement that drags through the entire book as a 'paranormal' plot line develops, and Watson wonders if perhaps this really is the work of a ghost and not a flesh and blood criminal. Holmes qualifies his statement at the end of the book, after Watson experiences a ghostly encounter, by suggesting that not everything can be explained, but the explanations we fit around those moments shape our lives, and that's the power he believes in.
All in all, I do not agree with a Sherlock Holmes who gives any kind of credence to real ghosts--in any sense. I view Holmes as the ultimate skeptic, and the suggestion that he may believe in ghosts was a poke in the eye for me, qualifying statements be damned.
I guess I would recommend this book to the hardcore Holmes reader, if just so you could say you read it
Bruce: Picking up his pen and writing a Sherlock Holmes story, as have so many authors since ACD published his collection so many years ago, Carr’s editorial comments in his early chapters seem to suggest that he is using this device in part to create a narrative about terrorism and the domestic response to it, no surprise given his concern about this issue that resulted in his non-fiction work of 2002, The Lessons of Terror, a work that I found troubling in its implications, espousing as it did preemptive military offensives as the primary and indeed preferred response to perceived threats, a response that seemed to me at the time I read it to be insufficiently nuanced and excessively limited in its perspective. The non-fiction book also contained, in my opinion, odd and unsubstantiated ideas about the role of civilians as objects of terrorism. But as I picked up this present novel I decided to suspend my skepticism and let him work out his plot and argument before judging either its credibility or his skill in setting it forth.
Although each of Arthur Conan Doyle’s seemingly countless imitators must inevitably bear the judgment of their readers regarding their fidelity to the work of the original, it is also true that readers sometimes focus so exclusively on assessing whether or not a later novel is perfectly consistent with Doyle’s writings themselves that the excellence of the copy may be obscured and any enjoyment of the latter work for its own sake and on its own merits may be lost. Thus, I try first of all when approaching such an apparently derivative work to assess it as if it were not attempting to work in a particular tradition, even as I take advantage of my knowledge of the Holmes stories to supplement my knowledge and increase my appreciation where deserved.
Having first read the entire Doyle/Holmes corpus over half a century ago, and having returned to it periodically since, I must confess that in general I have come to enjoy more recent works in the detective-mystery genre more and Doyle less, more recent works seeming to focus more on intra-psychic exploration and less on pure deductive brilliance. And so I find myself opening a contemporary Holmes story with a bit of a sigh, prepared to experience a more “primitive” work than I would ordinarily prefer. But I try to keep an open mind.
In the present book, Carr constructs a world and plot that are entertaining at times, enough to keep me reading, but ultimately the sum was less than its parts and was too fanciful to be convincing. Within the narrative, Carr inserted speculations about why young men (sic) are prone to acts of terrorism, but the relevance to the story was not entirely clear. Although this novel was approved by the Conan Doyle Estate for official affirmation as a Holmes sequel, I am not convinced that it is impressive enough to deserve any renown that such a seal of approval might provide.
Kathryn: I have always liked Caleb Carr’s books (both fiction and nonfiction), and I love Sherlock Holmes stuff, and Richard is of the same mind as me on Carr and Holmes. So when Richard found this unabridged audiobook, we both decided that it would be good to listen to on our vacation, and so it was; we both enjoyed it immensely.All good Sherlockania is in the voice of Doctor Watson, and so this book is; the book starts in Baker Street, with a crytic telegram from Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, demanding the presence of Sherlock Holmes in Scotland at Holyrood Castle in Edinburgh, where the Queen is in residence. Holyrood is the site of the murder of the secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, one David Rizzio, in 1566. Two deaths have taken place, in connection with the proposed renovation of the West Tower (where the murder took place), and Mycroft is concerned that Continental spices might be at work.
Holmes and Watson thus head for Scotland, and are immediately plunged into a scene of deception, ghosts, and secret passages. In short, this book is a marvelous imitation of Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, down to Watson’s tendency to be a bit florid with his language at times.
This was a great book to be listening to on our vacation, and a worthy addition to the faux Sherlock Holmes canon.