Monday, July 30, 2012

Rasputin's Revenge

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Rasputin's Revenge (Donald I. Fine, 1987).

It will be very, very difficult to read this book without spoilers: they are plastered over the front and the back covers. See, I tend to do a little more digging and research than my wife does into our hobbies, learning production trivia for the Stargate TV series, or example, and so I knew about John Lescroart's fun character of Auguste Lupa before she did. He is, effectively, Young Nero Wolfe, but never given that name. He's also, following the speculations of William S. Baring-Gould, the man who invented cross-genre fanfic as we know it in the early '60s, the son of Sherlock Holmes and "the woman," Irene Adler.

I had a great time with this story of Wolfe - I mean "Lupa" - working as an agent provacateur in Imperial Russia in late 1916. The story is told from the POV of a friend from France who has arrived in St. Petersburg on a diplomatic mission, to persuade Czar Nicholas not to sue for a separate peace with Germany. But a series of ugly murders of high-ranking officials in the court make it more likely that Nicholas will withdraw from the Great War. Fortunately, intelligence in Montenegro sent Lupa, one of their top agents, into Russia as soon as they heard of the first death. The soon-to-be-great detective is already showing signs of his future genius, but things go very badly for him after he and Giraud are arrested, and Lupa's reconstruction of the killings is foiled when Giraud unwittingly alibis the killer.

Unfortunately, the idiotic spoilers on the back of the book - I stuck post-it notes over them before giving the book to my wife to read - ruined one element of it. I was reminded of watching the late '70s TV movie The New Maverick, seeing Jack Kelly's name in the opening credits, and spending the entire movie wondering when Brother Bart was going to show up on the other end of the swindle. Suffice it to say that a very satisfactory plot twist would have been made much more so had I not known it was coming.

This was actually Lescroart's second book with Lupa. I passed on the first, Son of Holmes, for the pure amusement value of introducing my wife to Lupa without a word of his origins, as she introduced me to Wolfe himself similarly blind, and letting her learn through the text both that this character would eventually become Wolfe and make such claims to his parentage was great fun. Couldn't easily do that in a book that spells it out in the title. It was also Lescroart's final, to date, bit of fun in the sandbox with other people's classic characters. After these two books, he created his own protagonists in lawyer Dismas Hardy and San Francisco cop Abe Glitsky, who have starred in sixteen novels. The author did such a good job capturing Wolfe that I'm intrigued to see what he's done with his own creations, and will probably check those out after I finish some other series that I am working through. Recommended with the plea to avoid Amazon reviews and the book's back cover!

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