Irene at Large Hardcover – 1 Jul 1992
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While the Watson pastiches are remarkably well written I found the bulk of the narrative by Irene's companion Penelope Huxleigh rather irritating as the main charachters continually witter on smugly about how much better a detective Irene is than Holmes, and far too much time is spent on describing Irene's and Penelope's outfitS. There was far too much use of coincidence in the story and sadly the final denoument was very predictable. The author also displays a woeful lack of knowledge about London's geography and the complexities of the UK's pre-decimal coinage.
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She has also created a framework for this continued series based on a current day historian Fiona Witherspoon who has supposedly discovered the diaries of Irene's companion Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh and unpublished memoirs of Dr. Watson that she blends into the novels of the series.
In this outing the plot takes place around the events of Doyle's story The Naval Treaty. Irene and Nell run into an old acquaintance of Nell's, Quentin Stanhope, dressed in Eastern garb, feverish, and quite unkempt. When they take him home, an attempt is made on his life. As they try to uncover his attacker, they find the answer may lie in events at the British battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan nine years earlier that link Stanhope to Dr. Watson and a mysterious spy known as Tiger.
This is an excellent story that should appeal to readers familiar with the tales of Sherlock Holmes, but who seek a more feminine and feminist point of view on the period and the characters.
Douglas cleverly picks elements from Doyle's Holmes books and develops them into her own web of mystery. In "Irene At Large," she develops two major strands from Doyle: first and foremost, an explanation of Watson's war wound and then the background of Col. Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's right hand man. Holmes fans will recognize Col. Sebastian Moran from the short story "The Adventure of the Empty House". Holmes once described Moran as "the second most dangerous man in London" - the most dangerous - Professor Moriarty. The prologue hints at treachery in the 1880 Afghanistan campaign (Holmes fans should recognize the reference to Dr. Watson's past). Irene, her husband, and her confidante Nell Huxleigh are living in self imposed exile in Paris, when a poorly dressed stranger approaches them and is found to be poisoned. The poisoned stranger turns out to be Quentin Stanhope, an old acquaintance from Nell's past. After another attempt on his life, Quentin vanishes. And now the "game is afoot," or perhaps we should say, the "game is a cobra" as deadly snakes are used to kill several people from Paris to London.
Douglas' Irene Adler series are clever and enjoyable; the characterization is exceptional. Here Douglas has not just attempted to re-tell or recreate the character of Holmes, rather, she has carefully developed Adler and others from Doyle's works and made them her own. Carol Nelson Douglas has created an exceptional series of detective novels based on Irene Adler. I really like this series. and I strongly recommend them to you or to any fan of Holmes.
The period references to the "Great Game"-- the ongoing struggle for domination between England and Russia, the two major world powers of the day-- were also detailed and well-written, and added a satisfying texture to Watson's past, as well as adding suspense to the plot. (Those who liked this aspect of the story might also like Margaret Ball's "Flameweaver" and "Changeweaver" novels, though these are historical fantasy rather than mystery.)
Oh, and the mystery itself was pretty good too. :)