New Sherlockiana from an unexpected source: Faye Martin Tullis, the teaching assistant and amanuensis of Dr. Myrl Adler Norton, daughter of Godfrey Norton and Irene Adler, the woman in Holmes's life. Shortly after they meet at Smith College in 1918, the women make an unsettling discovery: the corpse of Brattleboro actress Alyssa Dansen, who's been killed months since, her body stuffed and pressed into service as the elusive (in fact, automated) landlady of a friend of Faye's. Following Alyssa's trail back to Vermont, Myrl and Faye find a close-knit covey of thespians whose relations are practically incestuous. Giles Wilcox, Alyssa's leading man, was engaged to her. Frances Hall, poisoned during a skeet-shooting outing, was in love with Giles. Alyssa's understudy Marion French, whom Myrl thinks was the poisoner's real target, may have been Alyssa's lover. Alyssa was being blackmailed; she was involved in a series of jewel robberies; she was secretly married. None of this New England byplay, not even the revelation that Godfrey Norton is not Myrl's real father, can sustain the brilliance of the macabre opening, but first-novelist Baker juggles her large cast and their secrets dextrously, and Myrl, who inevitably comes face-to-face with an aging private inquiry agent from England, is as sharply observant, as logical, and as histrionically authoritative as he is. Baker's pseudo-scholarly apparatus has all the self- seriousness of Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler stories, but she writes without Douglas's laborious archness. Recommended for readers who aren't sick of the centenary glut of Holmes pastiches, and even for those who are.
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