Benjamin Franklin faces off against blind magistrate Sir John Fielding as protégé Jeremy Proctor, on the brink of manhood and beginning legal studies, recounts Sir John’s ninth adventure, which begins with the burglary of powerful politician Lord Hillsborough’s residence. But what was stolen? Hillsborough’s stonewalling only intensifies Sir John’s interest until he learns at length that it was letters relating to American colonial turmoil. The clues lead from a pair of laborers Lord Hillsborough hired to a Dr. Arthur Lee, who hired the thieves, and finally to Franklin, Lee’s travelling companion in England. Though the murder of one of the burgling pair raises the stakes of the investigation, Sir John must proceed discreetly lest revelations in London affect the political situation across the ocean. In a plethora of subplots, nearly as much intrigue and turmoil, mostly romantic, attend the household of Sir John himself. Franklin flirts shamelessly with saucy cook Molly and Clarissa, Jeremy’s intended. The threat of criminal charges and deportation to her native France for pirate queen Marie Helene, a holdover from Sir John’s last case (Smuggler’s Moon, 2001), drives her sweetheart, series regular Black Jack Bilbo, to distraction. Tom Durham, Jeremy’s fellow ward and close friend, returns from a stint at sea no longer a boy but a rugged and rakish man with a good deal to interest Clarissa, much to Jeremy’s chagrin.
As usual, Alexander portrays the Georgian era deftly and juggles his large (and expanding) recurring cast with aplomb. Series veterans will find far greater rewards than newcomers encountering this caravansary for the first time.