Vesper Holly is on the move again!
Despite the many tumultuous circumstances in which I often find myself afloat, I, Professor Brinton Garrett, am a peace loving man. Why, I love nothing better than to sit at tea with my wife Mary and our ward, Miss Vesper Holly, in our Philadelphia home. But, more often than not, I am to be found dashing around the world at the heels of Vesper, the dear girl, who cannot seem to keep herself out of intrigue.
This time her plan seems simple – she has opted to accept the Grand Duchess Maria-Sophia of Drackenberg’s invitation to attend her diamond jubilee. But our stately vacation turns into a wild adventure when the dear girl’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Desmond Helvitius, appears as an invited guest at the same celebration! An exploding sausage, a band of wandering gypsies, and the dragon-like duchess herself are all involved in the plot which unfolds!
I’ve already discussed the general style of the Vesper Holly adventures in my review of The Philadelphia Adventure. I hope none of you mind if I reiterate here what I wrote in that review.
Fearless. Indomitable. Intellectual. Well-traveled. Highly civilized. Passionately dedicated to the pursuit of justice. This is Vesper Holly.
She has been called the female Indiana Jones, a comparison which, though I have never seen an Indiana Jones movie, I feel is likely a just one. Not only does Vesper dash around between nations solving highly dangerous problems of national importance, but she does so with an air of complete calm. On the few occasions when she is down, she is most certainly not out, and whenever her wits fail her, her cunning never does.
Some may think that this sounds like a feministic scenario, but it simply isn’t. Oh, Vesper’s plucky alright. And she is often the primary leader in her investigations. But her leadership isn’t a self-declared, rebellious, in-your-face leadership – it’s a natural one, the result of her obviously superior brain power. She is sometimes abrupt, but is never disrespectful.
In this story, third out of the six installments, only half of Vesper’s eventual entourage is present – herself, Mary and Brinnie. Missing are The Weed and Smiler and Slider, the twins. I felt their absence – The Weed provides a comedic relief which The Drackenberg Adventure needed for it to be as enjoyable as the other stories I have read from the series.
The Vesper Holly stories self-consciously imitate the most dramatic installments of the adventure genre. Alexander had a fine line to walk here – one notch more of drama and the whole story would feel completely overdrawn. One notch less, and the story would fall into dredging cheesedom. But he walked his line and achieved adventures which are archetypical but original; impossible, but highly probable in Vesper’s world. Vesper herself is a dear darling girl with a startling brain and an amazing aptitude for stratagem – Dr. Helvitius is a perfidious rapscallion whose sinister snarls are chilling and whose plots are never less than national in scheme.
Dr. Helvitius reminds me of Saccharine from Spielberg’s recent The Adventures of Tintin. Ruthless and unprincipled, but ever gentlemanly in dress and expansive in manner. It’s my favorite type of villain, really. Of course, the fact that Dr. Helvitius pulls Rathbone’s Moriarty-style unconfirmed deaths at the end of each story and prompt reappearances at the beginning of the next, doesn’t hurt anything.
Brinnie’s narrative, in keeping with the style of the story, is well-worded and the written style feels like a throwback to the 1890s adventure story – no small feat for a modern author. I loved his description of the Grand Duchess and the difference between Brinnie and Vesper’s responses to her.
“The crowd parted to make way for the Grand Duchess Maria-Sophia as she progressed toward a draped platform at the far end of the ballroom – or rather, as she stumped ahead briskly, aided by a knobby cane more an Irish shillelagh than a royal walking stick. Though one of the most elderly rulers in Europe, she had a jaw that looked strong enough to crack walnuts and a pair of sharp, shrewd blue hard eyes as hard edged as the diamonds in her crown.
“She looks like the Drackenberg flag,” said Vesper.
The emblem of the grand duchy is a golden dragon, and Vesper detected the resemblance precisely. Maria-Sophia had ties with every royal line and it showed in her features: the full Hapsburg lip, the hawkish Bourbon nose. There were still hints of the russet hair of the Elphbergs in her gray tresses. This combination, plus a beetling brow and a cracking glance, gave a definitely dragonlike air. It would be prudent to keep a distance from her.
“I want to talk to her.” Said Vesper. [pg. 29-30]
And here, Brinnie describes a fall he took.
“The majestic rule of gravity, the imperious law of falling bodies, must be experienced to be truly appreciated. I recall only a wild giddiness, a horrible sinking in the pit of my stomach as I plunged downward, flailing arms and legs as if that would save me from the inevitable collision with Ritterhof Square. My abrupt arrival there eliminated further sensations.” [pg. 142]
Vesper spends quite a bit of time with a gypsy band and observes of the gypsy chief,
“He knows more than we do. He knows how to be free. The rom [gypsies] are their own people,” Vesper said wistfully. “They’re a law unto themselves.” [pg. 71]
Vesper continues in her pursuit of lawful justice and, though eccentric, does not exhibit lawless tendencies.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret