Good Morning Irene (Irene Adler #2), by Carole Nelson Douglas
This book, and indeed the series in which it comes, is probably the pinnacle of this author’s achievement as an author. I’m not sure how I feel about it, because this book is made less enjoyable by the fact that it goes far beyond being an enjoyable mystery series. To begin with, the book is told by a somewhat narrow-minded character, Shropshire spinster Penelope Huxleigh, whose sympathies I am more in line with than with most of the other people in the book, rather than in the more elusive and intuitive Irene Adler or her patient barrister husband, who is also a sympathetic figure here. For another, the book seeks to re-appropriate the mythos of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries in a way that parodies feminist critical theory on the one hand while simultaneously adopting a feminist approach on the other, which does limit the appeal somewhat. Portraying Irene Adler as a thoughtful, intuitive detective engaged in the private solving of important mysteries would be sufficient, but this is an author that doesn’t appear to know when enough is enough, and though there is a lot to enjoy here, there are clearly cases where less is more and the author simply does not grasp that.
While still pretending to be dead, a cover she manages to at least partially blow by singing privately in Monte Carlo, Irene Adler, her husband, and her faithful assistant rescue a young woman from drowning herself, and find that she has a mysterious tattoo placed on her chest by some kidnappers. This leads them on a convoluted quest that first uncovers some unpleasant family business, including a strict uncle and the young woman’s desire to escape France and elope with a handsome but somewhat clueless American journalist (who seems bright enough to work for the Washington Post or New York Times, but probably not Wall Street Journal). The girl’s tattoo reminds Irene of a drowned sailor she saw years ago and also another sailor who had been drowned in Paris, and this leads them to uncover what ties them together, which also involves explaining the apparent suicide of the girl’s father more than fifteen years ago in Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, the efforts by a well-meaning French policeman to solve what appears to be Louise’s murder leads Sherlock Holmes to enter the story, which soon involves blackmail and the politics of Monaco and the author’s own views of gender politics.
Given the fact that this book is already a sufficiently convoluted mess, where people are continually misreading each other as well as the clues that they uncover, it is lamentable that the author feels it necessary to attach fake textual criticism as well as multiple layers of questions of authorial authenticity to the story on top of it. This is a story that is already overstuffed, and pruning and lopping and cropping would have been for the best. The author manages to make a lot of sly jokes, but given that they seem to make fun of Americans (especially American reporters) as well as men in general, most of the jokes miss the mark for me as well. The author certainly likes to subvert the cliches of the mystery novel, and certainly has a bone to pick with Sherlock Holmes in the way she views Irene Adler as a less druggy and more emotional but very intelligent detective and continually throws shade on Sherlock Holmes, but it would have been better for the author to focus on the story and let the reader come to feminist conclusions from reading about strong and capable women rather than feeling it necessary to beat them over the head with the political point.