Sunday, July 18, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle by Timothy Miller

 The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle by Timothy Miller is a delightful mash-up of Victorian literature.

Colonel Pickering (of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady fame) is concerned about the young protegee Eliza Doolittle of his friend Professor Henry Higgins. Higgins took a pretty flower-seller from the streets of London into his home and, upon a wager with Pickering, set about turning her into a proper lady by teaching her to speak the queen’s English. Higgins has been so wildly successful (or Eliza has) that she seems a different girl altogether. Perhaps even a duchess or princess. Thus far, the story is a familiar one. However in this novel, Pickering is afraid she is a different girl altogether and the original Eliza may have come to harm.

What else is Pickering to do, but call upon on old army friend, Dr. Watson, to see if Watson knows anything about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Is he still working? Can he be found?

Watson and Holmes have long since retired. They are old men now. Holmes has taken up bee-keeping in the country. But Watson is intrigued by Pickering’s story. He writes to Holmes, who invites the men to his home, then takes the case.

Holmes has aged. His mental acuity is perhaps not as sharp as it once was. Or, perhaps this case is more difficult than any he has encountered before. Still, he’s determined to solve it. He adopts the persona of a shady American businessman who has come to see Higgins for elocution lessons. Watson is his personal secretary. They begin to investigate.

I was intrigued by the premise. After all, the Pygmalion story is far-fetched on its surface. And it’s possible Sherlock Holmes could put a new spin on the tale. But the author has more in store for the reader than this. The title of the book should have been a clue. He also incorporates the horror story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the mix.

There is a lot going on in the story but the author manages to make it all work. This is largely due to the wonderful, convincing voice of Watson as narrator and the skill with which the author immerses us in early twentieth-century London. A general familiarity with the three main stories will increase the reader’s enjoyment, but you don’t have to be a Holmes fanatic to get the references.

1 comment: