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Good Night, Mr. Holmes


Carole Nelson Douglas

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  Historical fiction/England 1880's/Sherlock Holmes/Bohemia  
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That's right a full SEVEN sponges. This one makes my "Best Books Ever" list. After all, what woman can resist a story about an independent Victorian lady who is the toast of the Prague Opera, solves mysteries in her spare time, costumes herself like a man to explore those mysteries, turns down marriage to a King, and gets one over on Sherlock Holmes?

To be clear, Holmes has a very minor role in this book. It is, basically, a re-telling of A Scandal in Bohemia from Ms. Adler's point of view, or more accurately, her best friend Nell's point of view. We meet Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh wandering London's streets in a fog after just being sacked from Whiteley's for a petty theft she didn't commit. In her distraction, her carpetbag is snagged by a street waif, only being rescued by the quick advance of a "glorious goddess" emitting a "stream of Queen's English translated through the scullery". Thus begins the unlikely friendship of a very proper parson's daughter, and a very improper American singer/actress.

We are taken on a wonderful ride of Victorian artistic society, including Oscar Wilde, Mr. Tiffany (the elder), Whistler, Bram Stoker, etc., as Irene drags Nell through mystery after mystery. All eventually weave back into the quest for the "Zone of Diamonds" missing from the French royal jewels.

The writing is quick-paced, descriptive, and quite humorous without having to resort to silly jokes. There are twists and turns that kept me guessing and the plot satisfyingly wraps together at the end. Ms. Douglas has obviously done her homework on the Victorian era. Those of us who are Steampunk and/or costume fans will appreciate the in-depth (though well integrated) clothing descriptions as Irene and Nell translate their garb into whatever is appropriate for questing after the mystery du jour, just as Holmes enjoys masking himself to explore his cases.

Although the powerful figure of Irene Adler takes center stage, literally, the quietly strong and quite as unusual personality of Nell comes through clearly in her telling of this tale. A parson's orphan, recently leaving a governess position due to amorous advances, she is uncomfortable with Irene's lifestyle, and though grateful to be taken in, quickly finds employment of a more respectable sort. Taking classes in the new-fangled machine that have appeared, she decides to offer her services as a type-clerk to the barristers in Middle Temple. She is the first such to take employment there, and the first woman to take such a job as well. Her talents in this arena, as well as her ability to pour tea, become indispensable to their investigations.

The strength and intelligence of these two female characters mixed with the mores of Victorian England, chases across the continent, mysteries surrounding multiple pieces of jewelry, and cameos from other Holmes stories makes for a truly entertaining read. This book is a great escape and very hard to put down!

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