The ever-irresistible Irene Adler, her dashing barrister husband, Godfrey Norton, and the indomitable Miss Nell Huxleigh have arrived at last as their French cottage-having survived dastardly plots, Russian spies, pistol-wielding criminals, and the occasional cobra. The happy trio seeks nothing but rest and peace-but Irene has always chafed under idle conditions, and Paris, she says, "is pretty and urbane, but hardly a center of excitement." So when Charles Frederick Worth, the Parisian king of couture, invites Irene to become his "mannequin de ville," to wear the fabulous worth creations to stimulate his trade, Irene leaps at the chance.
But what was a joyous lark soon turns into a journey that can lead to disgrace, dishonor, and death when Irene, Nell, and Godfrey are drawn into a series of events that will compel Irene to the one place that she daren't go and the one man she must not confront-Prague and the King of Bohemia.
About the Author
Carole Nelson Douglas is also the author of the Midnight Louie mystery series, the Taliswoman series, and numerous other mysteries, fantasies, and romances.
Read an Excerpt
Another Scandal In Bohemia
By Douglas, Carole Nelson
Forge BooksCopyright © 2003 Douglas, Carole Nelson
All right reserved.
Give Her Liberty or Death
Irene lifted the cream parchment envelope on her joined, open palms like an offering to a pagan god.
"It has arrived!" she declared rapturously. "I have obtained at last one of my dearest ambitions."
I tilted my head to better survey the missive. "No doubt another scandalous invitation from that Bernhardt woman."
"Better!" she answered without hesitation.
I was not optimistic. In certain matters, Irene's and my estimation of worthiness were worlds apart.
"But I am being selfish," she admonished herself, glancing from the hypnotic envelope to the stitchery work dropped onto my lap. The cat, Lucifer, had already pawed my ball of thread to the ground and was proceeding to claw it into a snarl. "We must open the package, of course, first."
The same post had also brought to our rural cottage at Neuilly, near Paris, a massive parcel wrapped in brown paper that now squatted on our parlor carpet. I had noticed the letter's Paris postmark, but the parcel bore London markings. Given our recent adventures in that city, I was far more curious about its contents.
With great care, Irene laid the unopened envelope on the marble-topped occasional table, then rushed over to seize my small embroidery scissors. She cast herself at once onto the carpet to worry the parcel wrappings with a savagery as intense as Lucifer's attacks on myhapless ball of thread.
"Irene!" I remonstrated. "You will dull my finest German embroidery scissors."
"Oh." She eyed their dainty, curved gold tips before casting them down. "No wonder they're so ineffective!" She began tearing away great ragged swathes of wrapping paper with her bare fingers.
"What can have you in such a frenzy to unveil it?" I wondered aloud.
"Liberty silk! Our Liberty silk gowns have arrived."
She threw me a quick glance. "Of course 'our.' You don't imagine for a moment that I would indulge myself without ordering something for you."
"But you refused my company to Liberty's when we were in London. I remember most clearly. You said that I abhorred the fashion for aesthetic dress, and furthermore that we were incompatible shopping partners. You planned to order some gowns for yourself and a...gift for Sarah Bernhardt."
"And so I did." Irene frowned cheerfully as she struggled to untie lengths of string. "And two for you as well."
"I cannot see why, since I am such an unpleasant shopping companion."
"Nell, don't be such a goose. Of course I didn't mean any of those things I said. At the time, I needed to discourage your company, since I planned to follow my visit to Liberty's with activities that you could not know about."
"Then you lied."
"Exaggerated for good cause."
"Embroidered for effect."
"Evaded for your own good."
"I can consult my diaries for your exact words."
"Oh, a pox on your diaries!"
"At times you find them useful," I pointed out.
Irene sat back upon her heels, no very fine way to treat a pleated silk morning costume. Huge leaves of brown paper surrounded her like jungle foliage, and made her resemble an elegant fashion doll abandoned among the fish-and-chip wrappings.
"A small deception," she conceded at last, "necessary for the greater good."
"The 'greater good' being that you and Quentin deceived me so that you could have a personal look at the lodgings of that dreadful detective."
"Quentin had no choice, since I insisted, and I only deceived you because you might have given away the game. Whatever you may think of Sherlock Holmes, I should not like to be caught by him in a deception."
"I am not so sure that you did deceive him."
I shrugged and contested Lucifer for my poor mangled ball of thread. "Mr. Holmes, however odious, is clever enough to have appeared to accept you in the ludicrous role of Quentin's aged mama. It was not one of your more likely impersonations."
"Ah. So acting criticism is the thanks I get for rushing to Liberty's to purchase gowns for my friends when I had weightier matters on my mind."
Despite myself, my severe expression lapsed into a smile. "Only think how critical the Divine Sarah would have been had she witnessed the scene instead of me."
That thought gave Irene pause; the Divine One tolerated no rivals in her art. Finally Irene smiled in turn and flourished the cover free of the box. "At least no poisonous serpents inhabit this case, only silks. Do stop pouting and come see!"
Of course I was too curious to hold back any longer, especially when a riot of rich colors foamed over the carton's edge. I joined Irene's undignified seat on the carpeting as she rooted among pale tissues, throwing them hither and yon to the great entertainment of Lucifer.
The huge black Persian cat pounced with serial crackling sounds, while, from his cage, the parrot Casanova urged the cat on with hoarse cries of "Avanti! Avanti!"
I was distressed by the bird's apparent ease in yet another language, Italian--no doubt due to Irene's operatic origins--but forewent responding with my one Italian word, "Basta!" Enough.
Lengths of patterned silk spilled over the cardboard rim, a shimmering, exotic, rainbow river on which a Marco Polo might have sailed to China.
"Here. This one is yours, Nell. The wedgwood blue and ivory."
"How could you order for others? The size--"
"Size does not matter in this uncorseted, loose-flowing style. You must think of these as draperies."
Indeed, when I had untangled the roil of color and sheen that Irene had called mine, I held a high-waisted gown of a celestial shade of blue. A darker blue silk over-gown was also high-waisted, with huge cuffs and collar of ivory and blue brocade in sinuous pattern.
"This is a...nightgown," I murmured, pressing the voluminous, soft folds to my well-corseted bodice. "Not for public wear."
"But that is the point: the more public the better. No more whale-ribbed corsets, simply the soft fall of fabric. And the hair must be styled more loosely as well." Irene eyed me critically. "Perhaps half-down."
"I have not worn my hair down since a girl of sixteen!" I protested.
"Hmmm," Irene agreed with absent disapproval. She continued drawing lengths of silk from the box, a magician concentrating on an endless illusion.
I could not see how these untucked, unstitched, unberibboned lengths could pass as afternoon gowns, but Irene was untroubled by their unconstructed grace.
"Green for Sarah, naturally, given that incendiary hair of hers, with touches of imperial purple and red. Gold and crimson for me, and the silver and black. How do you like your blue?"
"Very...discreet." I eyed the clashing colors that bedecked the other gowns. "I suppose that items Moorish and Saracen are in fashion these days, though I shall likely never wear mine."
"Oh, everything from the exotic East is most à la mode nowadays," Irene assured me, adding, "as are personages from the same quarter." A wicked gleam warmed her tiger-brown eyes.
I knew precisely to whom she referred and blanched to think of Quentin Stanhope seeing me in such unconventional garb, even as I wondered if my wearing it might surprise, or intrigue, him. I found my fingers clutching the smooth silk as if it were a blanket and I was cold.
"What is this?" came Godfrey's liquid baritone from the threshold. "Have you two curiosity-seekers discovered a body in a box? Or rather, a missing person represented only by yards of silk? Some sybaritic mummy, perhaps, Irene, that you have unwound to nothingness?"
"Darling!" she cried, springing up to greet him, her arms full of Liberty silk gowns. Godfrey was used to saluting her over such fashionable barriers, and managed to brush her cheek with his lips. "You are just in time for a celebration," Irene went on. "Do pour something amusing before I open the letter that arrived today."
Godfrey had divested himself of stick and top hat in the hall, but he still looked very much the British gentleman abroad in his black frock coat and pin-stripped gray trousers as he crossed the threshold into our furbelow-occupied lair. He edged around the paper-trouncing Lucifer to the wine decanter.
"Liberty silks," I explained.
He nodded cautiously, as incurious as only men can be about the mysteries of female fripperies. "Most colorful and...prolific. Will sherry do?" he asked Irene.
"Whatever," she said, draping her booty over the bergère and reverently lifting the envelope from the tabletop. "I have been awaiting this for...months."
Godfrey brought me a dainty-stemmed glass of Vichy water, which I accepted the better to quiet my thoughts of Quentin and the cruel manner of our parting only weeks before, when I thought him dead from a fatal plunge into the Thames in the murderous grasp of the villainous Colonel Moran. Oddly, I found the thought that Quentin might still live even more disquieting.
Godfrey handed Irene her glass, and gently abstracted the precious envelope from her other hand before she could object, just as she was about to tear it open.
He stepped into the hall, leaving her open-mouthed, and returned a moment later bearing the console table's gilt letter-opener with the dolphin's head handle.
"If you have been waiting that long," he said, slitting the creamy parchment, "you can wait a bit longer to open it neatly."
Reproved, Irene demurely sipped her sherry, then handed him the glass in exchange for the envelope. Her husband's calming presence had quieted her immoderate spirits, for she drew the folded paper from its sheath as delicately as a wine steward decanting a rare vintage.
I held my breath. Irene adored dramatic moments, but she also had a genius for attracting to herself the outré, the deadly, and the puzzling. Perhaps the missive held some news of Quentin's survival, his whereabouts....It would be like Irene to inquire into the matter privately, and surprise me--us--with the results.
Her face was study in perfect beauty poised upon the brink of expression as her eyes darted back and forth to read, or, rather, consume in quick visual gulps, the contents of the page. Joy dawned on that still perfection, and flooded it with bright relief.
"As I thought," she announced. "My carefully laid plans have come to fruition. My dears"--her triumphant eyes sparkled in each of our directions in turn, indeed, encompassed even cat and parrot, both of whom grew eerily quiet--"I have an appointment on twelve September on the rue de la Paix with the maestro himself."
"Maestro?" The operatic term confused me. Surely Irene could not be contemplating a return to the stage?
"The rue de la Paix?" Godfrey echoed with lawyerly precision. His handsome face puckered as he mentally envisioned the addresses to be found on that highly fashionable street that began at the place de 1'Opéra and swept like a red carpet of luxury to the old royal promenade of the Tuileries via the rue Castiglione.
"I am to see Charles Frederick Worth himself," Irene elucidated. "I have a personal fitting with the king of couture. I am truly Parisienne. I have joined the aristocracy of artifice. I shall be dressed by Worm at last!"
Godfrey and I exchanged a polite but puzzled glance of mutual mystification. Irene, clasping the stiff parchment to her bosom like a debutante's first bouquet, noticed nothing.
* * *
Over dinner, Godfrey and I were educated on the subject of Charles Frederick Worth far more than we wished to be.
"Have you not several things already from the House of Worth?" Godfrey asked quite innocently, and unleashed what became a cataract of retort.
"Nothing from the mind of Worth himself."
"Who is he?" I asked.
"Who is he?" Irene cried. "What a question! Only the architect of the world's finest gowns, a monarch of material, a king of cut, a prince of profile--for it was he who invented the princesse line--the man for whom the word couturier was coined in the masculine gender, a master who dresses queens and empresses from the tundra of Russia to the castles of Austria as well as queens of society from St. James to Newport."
Godfrey's dinner fork dissected an odd arrangement of asparagus and chestnuts created by our cook, the maid Sophie's Aunt Nathalie. "I suppose that such concoctions of the maestro himself are exceptionally...expensive."
Irene looked insulted. "Cost is no consideration. Genius does not come cheap." She reconsidered. "Or it should not, in a perfect world."
"In a perfect world," he pursued wryly, "to how many works of Worth genius should an incognito opera singer aspire?"
"I had not considered. His evening gowns are sublime, but then so are his visiting ensembles. I do not wish to appear...tightfisted. And then, as long as one is ordering, one might as well lay in a season's worth of gowns."
"As long as one is paying, what will so many Worths be worth?" he asked.
"More than enough," she admitted, laughing. "But this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Worth at this stage in his career does not accept just anyone as a client, and seldom sees them in person. Besides, we have plenty of money left from the sale of the Zone of Diamonds."
"No doubt," I put in, "Sarah Bernhardt put in a good word for you with this man-milliner."
"I hope not! When she was still with the Comédie Française years ago, Sarah insulted Worth by ordering five of his gowns for a play, then using only one and filling in with dresses by other designers he considered lesser. Worth was livid, as Sarah told me. He is a tyrant in the fitting room who tolerates no rivals. No, I have won this coup on my own, by a careful campaign of dropping a word in the right ears."
Godfrey shook his head, smiling. "It is your money, Irene; you may spend it as you wish. I can't help thinking that an idle mind is the couturier's workshop, though. I have seen your boredom rise at the quiet life in France after our latest adventure. You must do what you will to occupy yourself. Nell and I will have to take your word that it is 'Worth' it."
"Do not include me in your approval," I told Godfrey. "I am not convinced that it is proper for a man to involve himself in the intimacies of women's dress."
Irene folded her napkin and tossed it to the tablecloth. "Your 'respectable' reservations are thirty years behind the time, Nell. That issue was decided in Mr. Worth's favor when he first began dressing the Empress Eugenie in the sixties. Now she is in exile, empires have toppled, but Worth still reigns supreme. Besides, he is an Englishman born and reared, so how can he even dream of being improper? Such old-fogeyism is old hat."
"No," said Godfrey, installing peace, "it is new hat. I imagine we will see a good deal of those as well."
"And gloves and parasols, boots and slippers, jewelry," Irene enumerated happily. "Worth dresses the whole woman."
"Until she has a hole in her pocket," I mumbled to my own mutilated asparagus.
"Wait to judge, Nell, until you see number seven, rue de la Paix," Irene said.
"I? I never intend to see such a place!"
"But you must."
"Godfrey has no interest in the rituals of commissioning gowns, and I can hardly be expected to make up my mind on such vital matters alone. Worth gowns cost a king's ransom, after all."
Irene's husband and I stared at each other in the face of this sudden confession from a woman who recently had faced down a murderous heavy-game hunter and hooded cobras.
"Please, Nell," she pleaded very prettily indeed. "You can't allow me to go unchaperoned into such a den of mousseline and man-milliners. Godfrey is right; boredom is fatal to me. I must make my forays into something new, even if it is only as frivolous as fashion. I require a witness, a supporter, a recording angel. You cannot deny me, dearest Nell."
As usual, she was quite correct I could no more resist an appeal to my governess instincts than Irene could resist the siren calls of imagined luxury and calculated risk.
Godfrey had done with dinner and laid down his fork. He regarded Irene with an indefinable glint in his silver-gray eyes. "As for your assertion that it is impossible for an Englishman to be improper, I will be forced to put your theory to the test."
"I will take a great deal of convincing," she suggested.
"I do hope so," he responded in a baritone purr.
I, of course, could make no more head or tail of this last exchange than I could discern front from back on a Liberty silk gown.
Pleading headache, I excused myself immediately after dinner to withdraw to my room with my peculiar new gowns. Neither Irene nor Godfrey seemed discernibly bereft by my absence.
Copyright 1994 by Carole Nelson Douglas
Excerpted from Another Scandal In Bohemia by Douglas, Carole Nelson Copyright © 2003 by Douglas, Carole Nelson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Douglas' universe Irene Adler Norton is a wealthy but bored and spends her time investigating mysteries with her devoted husband and a Watson like assistant. For fans of Sherlock Holmes, the Irene Adler mysteries are a fun continuation of that universe which also features appearances but other notable historical figures like Oscar Wilde and Buffalo Bill. While all of the books are enjoyable this outing is my favorite. It's the perfect mix of mystery and romance, with appearances by Holmes and Watson along the way.
I know I've read this one before, but I honestly didn't remember anything about it. It's been a long time, and there've been a lot of books in the interim.This is the 4th book in the Irene Adler series, based on the character from the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia." Irene, her husband Godfrey, and friend Nell are bored in Paris after their last case. Exiled from England and Irene from the stage because of their "deaths," they're unable to pursue their normal occupations, and Irene turns to shopping, getting a much-coveted appointment with the House of Worth, where she and Nell have three startling experiences: 1) Charles Worth himself asks Irene to be a living advertisement for his gowns; 2) the Queen of Bohemia, Irene's erstwhile rival, confides that her husband of several months has yet to visit her bed, and asks for help; 3) a bead-girl is found murdered in the Worth dress factory.Godfrey, meanwhile, has had a request of his own, for the three of them to visit Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, the international financier, who offers each one of them the perfect price to return to Bohemia and spy for him.Of course, when Irene and Nell left Bohemia, it was in fear for their lives, so the expedition is not without risk.There's international intrigue, fashion, romantic entanglement, the supernatural in the form of the Golem (which made me think of Pratchett) that's reportedly menacing Prague, the position of Jews and working women in late 19th-century Europe, and an overlap with a Holmes case, which for the life of me I can't identify, and which may not actually exist.It's complex and filled with realism, and the characters just grab me. Nell's relative innocence, honesty, and narrow-mindedness contrast well with Irene's worldliness and other-worldliness, and Godfrey's sincerity and pragmatism.
I truly relished reading this book--with every sharp twist of the plot I was more convinced that Carole Nelson Douglas had truly created a masterpiece. The characters of "Another Scandal in Bohemia" are unforgetable and the reader grows more concerned for them and interested with every passing paragraph! This is truly a must-read!