If asked which one person we would have liked to see again, true Holmesians would vote for Irene Norton née Adler with a huge majority, if not by an unanimous vote. A Soul of Steel by Carole Nelson Douglas is a novel from her Irene Adler series which tries to fulfill that fantasy.
Irene and her husband Godfrey Norton are spending their “posthumous” lives with their friend cum housekeeper Miss Penelope Huxleigh in Paris, when a man from Nell Huxleigh’s past is thrust in their lives.
Capt. Emerson Quentin Stanhope, presumed dead in Afghanistan, has found that somebody is trying to silence him because of the secrets he holds about battle of Maiwand a decade past. And by association, the life of the doctor who saved him on the battlefield might also be in danger. When Stanhope is found, sick and dying, by Irene and her friends, they decide to help him find and warn the Dr. Watson. But, helping Quentin makes them a target for an extremely dangerous hunter, and they have to knock on the doors of 221B, Baker Street to bring the mystery to conclusion.
Chronologically, the story does take a few liberties with Holmes canon. Taking place some time after “Scandal in Bohemia”, during and after “Naval Treaty” (possibly placing it back by some time), it introduces a major character before it appears in canon (If we go by timeline according to this novel, there are some serious questions about Watson’s memory re: people trying to kill him). Although, that’s just the Holmesian in me cribbing.
Characters-wise, Godfrey Norton is your Standard English Gentleman, a good friend and a honourable man. He and Irene are completely in love with each other (though their married life sounds a bit more 20th century American than 19th century English) and are equal partners in their adventures. And of course, he is understandably jealous of The Man his wife remains fascinated with.
Miss “Nell” Huxleigh is the typical vicar’s daughter, governess in a respectable family kind of girl. She is Watson to Irene’s Holmes (although she will not approve of that comparison). Loyal to the fault and having lived a sheltered life before sharing in Irene’s adventures, Nell is the voice of caution in the household. And that explains her feelings towards Holmes.
Irene on the other hand is portrayed as the equal and opposite of Holmes. They both share liking for adventure, the ennui coming out of commonplace existence, the flair for drama, as well as the immovable sense of justice. But where Holmes is an analytical machine, Irene the Prima Donna is impulsive and emotional (in short, dare I say, a woman); jumping into whatever catches her fancy without a thought for dangers involved.
This is before Watson’s stories start getting published, and hence Holmes to Irene’s friends is a just paid agent trying to swindle Irene out of her only means of danger. Since this is a story from “the other side”, that was the only reason I could read the portrayal of Holmes for most part. Given that tone of the novel, I was worried about the eventual meeting between Holmes and Irene, but a careful reading was enough to dispel my doubts.
In short, if you can’t get enough of the world of Holmes, or (like somebody said,) you can’t get enough of The Woman who got better of Holmes, this is for you. For me, continuing the series would depend on how they talk about The Man.
Quote of The Day:
And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourable title of The Woman.
– Dr. John H. Watson, A Scandal in Bohemia