Good Night, Mr. Holmes (Irene Adler #1)
- Carole Nelson Douglas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
For any Sherlock Holmes fan, Irene Adler is a fascinating character - smart and intelligent, one of the 4 people and the only woman to get the better of Holmes, and the only woman to win Holmes's admiration. So I felt it was great idea to portray her as a sort of female counterpart of Holmes - with a strong ability to observe and reason, wonderful skill at disguise, and probably much more resourcefulness.
I also think it was very ingenious on the author's part to expand 'A Scandal in Bohemia' to create a backstory for Irene Adler, and present her side of the story. In the canon, the king represents Irene as a cunning and vengeful woman whereas Irene says she is the one who has been wronged, and in the end Holmes seems to consider Irene much superior as a person. This novel provides an explanation of how and why of her claim, and why Holmes might have been justified in regarding her far more than the king.
I think that this novel makes a significant statement of feminism. We have here a woman, alone in the world, working to survive in Victorian England on her skills and talent, and making a good job of it. It also demonstrates how "cleverness" in a woman is portrayed by the patriarchal world as "scheming", while the truth might be the other way round.
Since Holmes has Dr. Watson, Irene must have a sidekick-biographer - so there is a Penelope (or Nell, as Irene calls her). I found Nell an extremely annoying character, who doesn't really have the mental strength to survive her misfortunes, but cannot stop moralizing Irene, who has sheltered her. In a regency romance kind of setting, she might be the spinster who has neither wealth nor charm, and her bitterness due to this drives her to take a high moral ground. There doesn't seem to be any reason why Irene may consider her a friend.
The author created two independent women (yes, Nell eventually learns to support herself financially), but then proceeded to spoil it by having Godfrey Norton, and extremely kind and handsome man, go out of the way to make life easy for both of them. By having relationship between him Nell start in a way indicating romance, but suddenly revealed as a brotherly affection. By having the heartbroken Irene suddenly fall head-over-heels-in-love with him. Of course we know from the canon that Norton marries Irene, but the way these relationships were developed were uncharacteristic in the novel.
Despite the drawbacks, and the amount of time spent in building up the backstories, I found it interesting and would like to explore more books in the series.