A flower girl–turned–speech coach stops polishing vowels long enough to solve several murders in a series debut that picks up just short of where Shaw’s Pygmalion left off.
Eight months after her triumph at the Embassy Ball, Eliza Doolittle has learned enough from world-renowned speech expert Henry Higgins to go into business for herself—or at least as an assistant to Higgins’ chief rival, Emil Nepommuck. After a day of giving phonetic lessons to social climbers in London’s fashionable Belgrave Square, Eliza hears a noise in the dark as she’s leaving her office and is startled by someone rushing past her, leaving behind a gold button. Then, at a grand reception, Eliza witnesses a ruckus at the announcement of Nepommuck’s engagement to the Dowager Marchioness of Gresham, who’s easily twice the Hungarian count’s age. The nuptials, alas, are not to be: Eliza finds Nepommuck stabbed to death in his office and becomes the first suspect herself. Luckily for her, her cousin is the detective inspector on the case, and he releases her. His next suspect, however, is Higgins, who remains stubbornly secretive about where he was the day of the murder. He’s not the only one withholding information. Nepommuck was blackmailing people who were hiding secrets, and the list grows as Eliza tries to find the owner of the mysterious button and clear Higgins. Even her pluck, as well as loving descriptions of Edwardian fashion and the presence of Col. Pickering and Freddy Eynsford Hill, can’t offset the tale’s feeble wit and soppy subplots. Fans of the original may be curious to know what happens next, but true Shaw devotees will wish they could unread this ill-conceived sequel, especially when it descends into slapstick and a denouement so clichéd that it’s even announced as such.
The two authors writing together as Ireland must have known that the tradeoff for a ready-made back story and brand-name characters would be comparisons with the characters’ creator—but did they know how short they would fall?