Ever wonder what happened after the end of Pygmalion (the original play on which the film My Fair Lady is based), as Eliza Doolittle’s emerging independence wars with Professor Henry Higgins’s attempts to ensure that she remains under his proverbial thumb? Fear not. The pseudonymous D.E. Ireland (a debut team of two authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta) has imagined an alternative. In Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, the first novel in a new Doolittle/Higgins mystery series, Eliza and Henry pair up to solve a murder. They share a continuing bond, however fractious the relationship, and there’s an immediate interest in finding the killer, because the professor himself has become the prime suspect.
Eliza now works as a teaching assistant to Higgins’ rival, phonetics teacher Maestro Emil Nepommuck, who teaches citizens of the “lower” classes how to speak like the gentry, a crucial need for any who wish to “better” themselves and move up a notch in England’s rigid class hierarchy.
Eliza, who wants to prove she is independent, has accepted an offer to assist Nepommuck in his phonetics laboratory. A Hungarian import with a very iffy past, he has started advertising his services in the newspapers, claiming that he is the person responsible for Miss Doolittle’s amazing transformation. As Eliza becomes acquainted with his present and former clients, it soon becomes clear that the maestro is using his knowledge of his clients’ backgrounds to indulge in a spot or two of blackmail in return for monetary or sexual favors.
Higgins, incensed over Nepommuck’s claims, retaliates by unmasking the man’s shady exploits in the newspaper, and shortly thereafter the Hungarian is found stabbed to death. Which of the imposter’s many nefarious dealings has resulted in his demise? His “way” with an assortment of ladies? His attacks on Higgins’ professional ego? Higgins is detained by the police, and it’s not until he and Eliza join forces to scour the streets for clues that the real killer is eventually unmasked.
All the familiar characters from the film and stage versions are back, from the tedious Freddy to the kindly Professor Pickering. However, an overdependence on these characters, along with Eliza’s predictable speech regressions in moments of stress, becomes tiresome and formulaic. Hopefully this promising idea for a series will take a cue from its many new characters—even a hint that the dour Professor Higgins hides a major secret of his own—and head off in a new, more enjoyable direction.