CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 1. . . .September 9, 2016
Thrice Burned. (A Portia Adams Adventure, Vol. 2).
Angela Misri. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.
Halifax, NS: Fierce Ink Press, 2015.
269 pp., trade pbk., $16.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Ruth Latta.
"I know you're working hard on this lawyer thing [Sergeant Michaels] said, waving toward the college..."but you might think of maybe doing this whole detective thing full time."
"Full time?" I repeated, looking over at him. "You mean like Sherlock Holmes?"
He tapped his cigar before answering. "Not like Holmes. Better'n Holmes. Listen, you have an opportunity to do here what your grandfather was too full o' himself to do. To work with my men - not as a superior son of a ..." He glanced my way and stopped. "not the way Holmes treated my kind. With us. Like an equal."... "I don't want you to quit your schoolin' or anything like that. I just want you to think about a future where your partnership with the yard is a little more official-like. Just think about it."
In Jewel of the Thames, Angela Misri introduced 19-year-old Portia Adams, a bright, socially isolated introvert living in Toronto in 1930, who discovers her true ancestry after her mother's death. With her newfound grandmother, Portia goes to England where she has inherited a house - 221 Baker Street. (Sherlock Holmes fans will immediately know this address.) In Jewel of the Thames, Portia solves three criminal cases and learns that her grandparents on one side of the family are the famous detective Holmes and the glamorous criminal who charmed him - Irene Adler. Portia's other grandfather was Holmes's sidekick, Dr. John Watson.
In Thrice Burned, Misri's new Portia Adams novel, readers follow the young law student/consulting detective in three new cases: "Thrice Burned", "Box 850" and "Truth be Told", which are presented as her case books. The crimes, which take place in England, are arson, art theft and the murders of prostitutes, cases which Portia solves in the spring and summer of 1931. The twists and turns of these cases engage the reader, as does a love triangle.
In Jewel of the Thames, Misri introduced Constable Brian Dawes, a young policeman who lives with his parents in the downstairs apartment at 221 Baker Street. Though not in tune with her emotions, Portia is pleased to have Brian as a friend. In Thrice Burned, she becomes aware of her deeper feelings toward him only after another young woman captures his attention.
"I could see they were getting closer and it hurt, even as it didn't surprise me." [Portia says.] She was exactly the kind of girl I could see him with. A woman who needed him, who looked up to him, and for whom he would protect and provide. That made me sad because I could never be that kind of woman. In fact, I balked at the idea of fitting that mold.
Portia's personality is like that of the legendary fictional Holmes: self-focused, unemotional, intellectual - dare one say symptomatic of mild Asperger's Syndrome? Her law school classmates complain about her "brutal logic". Portia has feelings, however, especially empathy, demonstrated when she provides a meal for a young unemployed woman journalist who hasn't eaten in a long time. This girl (the one who eventually captures Brian Dawes's affections) is Annie Coleson. Out of favour with her editor because of her coverage of the arson case, Annie persuades Portia to help her get her career back by permitting her to write about the crimes being solved by "P.C. Adams". Portia has chosen this male-sounding professional name to protect her identity. She worries that her future as a lawyer and consulting detective might be jeopardized if her grandmother's criminal past is exposed. She agrees to let Annie write about "P.C. Adams" after Brian suggests that Annie could be her friend as well as her associate. He is aware of Portia's tendency toward isolation and unsociability.
In general, Thrice Burned is faithful both to the spirit of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and to Depression-era London. By showing Portia investigating in poor neighbourhoods and later attending a high society party, readers see the gulf between social classes.
One remark struck me as an anachronism. A doctor with the police force, commenting on Portia's detective abilities, says, "The bloodhound is in her DNA." In 1931, someone might have said that her skills "ran in her family", but the reference to DNA seems very 21st-century. DNA was discovered in 1869, but nobody knew what it did until the early 1950s when scientists Francis Crick and James Watson revealed that the structure of DNA could carry internal codes of genetic information.
The strong career aspirations of the young women are authentic to the era. Misri deserves praise for showing two young women getting along as colleagues, even though they are interested in the same man, and for showing their professionalism as they do their work. Whether examining an arson site, discovering a crime at a society wedding, or witnessing a seemingly supernatural phenomenon in a church, Portia keeps her cool and looks for the logical explanation.
That said, the reader keeps turning the pages not only for the intellectual challenge posed by the crimes, but also because of the romantic triangle. In a scene near the end, Brian is jealous of Portia's camaraderie with a young forensic specialist. Subsequently, Brian asks her if she ever "turns off" her penchant for observation and deduction. Portia responds with two questions for him:
"Do you ever wish I could turn it off, Brian? Do you ever wish you had never met the granddaughter of Holmes and Watson?"
"Yes," he says, and "never."
Clearly Brian has not closed his heart to Portia. Will he drop Annie and choose her? Stay tuned for the next Portia Adams novel.
Ruth Latta's most recent young adult novel is The Songcatcher and Me. Her novel for grown-ups, Most of All, (2015) is published on Amazon Kindle.
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