Book Review: The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle by Timothy Miller
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Seventh Street Books (January 19, 2021)
Length: 256 pages
What, me say no to a Sherlock Holmes retelling? Never! Even better when they come in the form of a mashup, pulling in characters from a few other classics, such as George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (which is also popularly known by its musical film adaptation, My Fair Lady) as well as a certain Robert Louis Stevenson novella about a respected physician and his evil alter ego.
The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle begins some years after both Holmes and Watson have announced their retirement from detective work—officially, anyway. Watson, however, can hardly wait to be on the investigative trail again after he is contacted by Colonel Hugh Pickering, his old friend from his British Army days, with a bizarre story about a former cockney guttersnipe flower girl who has seemingly transformed into a right proper duchess overnight. While it may be true that Henry Higgins, the man claiming responsibility for such a miraculous transformation, may have been spurred on by a wager with Pickering, surely such an extreme change couldn’t have been the result of just a few elocution lessons?
Suspecting foul play, Pickering even goes as far as to suggest that the girl, Eliza Doolittle, may have been substituted with a doppelganger. In any case, Watson decides the circumstances are curious enough to bring in his old partner Sherlock Holmes, who agrees there are enough oddities about Pickering’s story to warrant a closer look. And as ever, the brilliant detective’s instincts prove correct: something strange is definitely afoot.
Literary mashups seem to be all the rage these days, but what clearly sets The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle apart is Timothy Miller’s intimate knowledge of the source material. Granted, this novel took me longer than expected to read, mostly due to the writing style, i.e., dense and full of Victorian literature affectations. And yet, I think it says a lot about the author’s talent and attention to detail that he was able to capture so well the original tone of the source that inspired him, and eventually, the ride did smooth out as I gradually grew accustomed to the prose. Miller perfectly emulates Watson’s voice from the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales, complete with all the stylistic traditions which were popular at the time.
Still, while the prose might be somewhat clunky at times with Victorian vocabulary and long descriptive phrases, it was also surprisingly easy to get used to. As well, the sardonic humor was a welcome element. More than once, I found myself laughing out loud at the mix of cleverness and comedy. Then there’s the incredibly ambitious yet creative idea of throwing all these literary characters together. After all, many of us are at least passing familiar with these classic stories, and I had wondered how Miller was going to present his novel in a way that was both unique and interesting while remaining faithful to the original works.
To my delight, the results were extremely entertaining. While I won’t be going into too much detail in case of spoilers, I’ll share some of the more outrageous scenarios, which range from Sherlock Holmes posing as an American gangster, an appearance by actor William Gillette who became quite famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage in the early 1900s, and of course, what investigation involving the possibility of a doppelganger would be complete without Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? The story became even stranger, funnier, and twistier as time went on, but throughout it all, not only did the characters stay amazingly true to themselves, the narrative also delivered a proper mystery with clues to follow as well as a satisfying conclusion.
If you’re curious to see the world of Sherlock Holmes transformed in a way you’ve never seen before, you’ve got to check out The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle. Well-written and well-conceived, this book has definitely earned the distinction of being one of the most intriguing and quirky literary mashups I’ve ever read! Not to be missed by fans of fun, creative reimaginings of classic characters and stories.