March 5, 2007
The Alienist was a revelation of sorts, turning me on to contemporary historical fiction and inspiring me to walk through their inspirations.
While Carr's work since then has disappointed -- in both the sequel to the Alienist (The Angel of Darkness) and his attempt at futuristic espionage (Killing Time) the man seemed enamored with his own smarts -- it was with not a little bit of excitement that I picked up The Italian Secretary, his authorized foray into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's signature character. Sherlock Holmes is ably portrayed, but the pattern has, alas, persisted. Carr's insistence upon showing off just how clever he is ruins any chance he had at getting it right.
You see, Mr Carr, Conan Doyle succeeded only because he made Holmes look clever, without bringing attention to his own cognitive abilities as a writer. No one walks away from an Agatha Christie masterpiece with a nagging feeling that she was showing off; Christie's characters, rather than Christie herself, show guile; her stories are smart; her plot twists are without peer.