What I Read in October Part VII . . .
This mystery used characters from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion with many tongue-in-cheek references to the musical My Fair Lady. It helps if you're familiar with both before reading this but not necessary. It might be better not to know the characters ahead of time.
In 1913 Eliza Doolittle has left her home in Wimpole street after the Embassy ball in which she passed as a Duchesss. She's now working as an assistant for Henry Higgins' biggest rival, Emil Nepommuck, a Hungarian count. (Or is he merely pretending?) Eliza tries to use the methods Higgins used with her, but finds her male clients want tp flirt and her female clients want to copy her fashion. To make matters worse, someone is lurking about turning off the lights on a stormy day and Eliza might be in danger. When Higgins returns home from Spain with Col. Pickering and discovers Eliza has decamped, he's furious and threatens to ruin Nepommuck. Henry makes the unwise choice to wonder why one of Nepommuck's clients hasn't put a knife in his back yet. Unfortunately for Higgins, someone does and first Eliza and then Henry are the chief suspects. Eliza is certain her friend and mentor did not kill her employer and she's determined to prove it. Henry Higgins is exasperated and annoyed by Eliza at every turn. He knows he's innocent but he can't prove his allibi. It's not something he can ever share. Can Eliza really solve the mystery? Meanwhile Freddie is still courting Eliza and not at all happy about her new activities. He also has a rival for Eliza's affections, a poetry-loving Sanskrit scholar and ex-Army officer has come to London to work with Colonel Pickering. Will one of them win Eliza's heart?
I didn't know whether to cringe in horror or be super excited at the idea of continuing the story of one of my favorite musicals of all time. My Fair Lady was my first professional live musical theater production and I have the movie memorized. I have read the play, but only once a long time ago. I do not think all the characters were true to the originals. I loved Eliza. You can take the girl out of the East End, but you can't take the East End out of the girl. She's a bit naive still but brave and plucky. I know she's supposed to be in love with Higgins ("I only know when he/began to dance with me/I could have danced, danced, danced al night") but she doesn't realize it. Romance is not the focus of her life right now. She thinks she'll settle down with Freddie but she is much more vibrant and intelligent than a Society girl. She's stumbles into situations she shouldn't be in but I found her charming and delightful anyway. I liked the characterization of Henry Higgins for the most part. I did NOT buy his backstory/allibi at all. I also never got the impression he was in love with Eliza. Yet this Henry clearly is and they would actually make a good couple despite the age difference and Henry's misogynistic ways. Col. Pickering is faithful to the original as Eliza's fairy godfather. He doesn't have a large role in the story. Freddie is a bit of an idiot but I think he's spot on for a young man of his situation.
There are many new characters as well and they are too numerous to mention. They're typical of the people who move in and out of London Society in the early 20th century. Any one of them could be the murderer because Emil is a nasty guy.
The plot kept me up waaaayy too late. I wasn't at all surprised by the big reveal but there were enough twists and suspects that I wasn't all sure whodunnit. This is a cozy mystery but a little bit violent in parts. The story moves around London and we get to see Eliza's world past and present. I liked the descriptions of London and the things that were going on. The plot had TOO much going on and too many suspects though. The plot includes topics ripped from today's headlines such as police brutality, class issues, death with dignity and a transgendered person. It was too much for one story. The author's writing style also sounded a little too modern for the period. I liked when Eliza slipped into East End speech. It sounded much more authentic.
I need to go back and reread the play again and see if this novel is true to the original.