When the headless corpse of a wealthy old man is found floating in the Thames in 1897, the Met calls in private investigator Lord Francis Powerscourt (Goodnight, Sweet Prince, 2002) to identify the remains and stave off the bounty hunters. Powerscourt soon discovers that the body is that of the patriarch of the Harrisons, an Anglo-German banking family who turn to Powerscourt and ask him to find the killer. No sooner has he begun, though, when a suspicious fire sweeps through the Harrison mansion, incinerating Frederick Harrison, the son who had hired Powerscourt, leaving a young, orphaned nephew, Charles Harrison, in charge of Harrison’s Bank. Powerscourt asks his wife, Lady Lucy, to interview the elderly, confused Harrison spinster and sends his friend Lord Fitzgerald to Berlin while he works to safeguard London for the approaching celebration of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Because the public pageant of the Queen riding in state to St. Paul’s Cathedral presents a prime opportunity for late Victorian terrorism, Powerscourt must return to his native Ireland, then as now a hotbed of anti-British violence, to track down missing arms. Meantime, Harrison’s Bank runs into difficulties that pose their own dangers to the Jubilee—and ultimately to Lady Lucy.
Powerscourt’s family brings out his appealing humanity, and the historical detail adds texture to other characterizations. Given enough subplots, one culminating in a pyrotechnical rescue and a Beethoven soundtrack, for two or three novels, one hopes that Dickinson has saved some invention for the sequel.