theitaliansecretaryafurth32097_f.jpgHolmes and Watson are called to Scotland at the behest of Holmes’ brother Mycroft in Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary. Queen Victoria’s peaceful retreat to the Highlands has been disturbed by the gruesome murders of two men at Holyrood when she was expected to be in residence, and the mystery must be solved.

The goings on at the palace hark back to the events surrounding the violent death of David Rizzio, Mary, Queen of Scots’ Italian secretary. Is there a link? Does Rizzio’s spirit stalk the palace apartments? Holmes, of course, finds the solution, exposing corruption and preventing a domestic tragedy along the way.

Victorian Edinburgh is beautifully re-created, and although the tale of Rizzio is presented in a rather floridly romantic way to my taste (I’ve never been convinced that Mary was as innocent as some like to make out) the supernatural elements really add something to the atmosphere.

I thought the story here was much slighter than the other Holmes pastiches I have read so far, but I think the characters of Holmes and Watson have rarely been so clearly drawn, and the dialogue (except for Holmes re-telling of Rizzio’s demise) is really spot on.