The only woman to capture Sherlock Holmes’s regard again fascinates him, this time in 1889.
At Holmes’s instigation, Irene Adler is drawn to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery and the grave of Eliza Gilbert, who died 30 years earlier. Could this poor soul lead her to the identity of the Woman in Black, the mother who abandoned her to an acting troupe when she was a toddler? With her husband Godfrey off in Bavaria on assignment for Baron Rothschild, Irene and her companion, starchy ex-governess Nell Huxleigh, trace Gilbert’s history, discovering that she was the infamous entertainer and courtesan Lola Montez, whose deathbed conversion to saintliness was witnessed by Episcopalian cleric Father Hawks, now dead himself on the billiard table of William K. Vanderbilt. While Holmes concentrates on the murder, Irene and Nell continue tracking Lola, with semiromantic interludes between Nell and British secret agent Quentin Stanhope, who is now assisting intrepid girl reporter Nellie “Pink” Bly as she uncovers a massive baby-buying scandal. Everyone slips in and out of disguise, and more skullduggery is afoot: Vanderbilt’s daughter Consuela is abducted, another cleric is tortured, and three cloaked figures (Jesuits? Ultramontanes?) waylay everyone. Will Irene learn who her mother was, or simply come to terms with not knowing?
Like its seven predecessors (Femme Fatale, 2003, etc.), a paean to women’s audacity, pugnacity and street smarts, told with frisky good humor and nicely integrated historical asides: Bellevue’s eminence, Mesmer’s skills, Delmonico’s menus.