A pair of Victorian sleuths step into a hornet’s nest of family secrets.
When Lady Arnifour hires private detectives Colin Pendragon and Ethan Pruitt to investigate the death of her husband, the Earl of Arnifour, and an attack on her niece, Elsbeth, Colin senses at once that his client’s motive has little to do with love for her husband. She seems more interested in protecting the primary suspects, groundskeeper Victor Heffernan and his son Nathaniel. When the case turns into a double murder, Colin and Ethan broaden their investigation to include Arnifour’s mistress, his drunken heir, his suffragist daughter and his business partner. Along the way, a young street urchin hoping to find his missing sister plays on Ethan’s sympathies. His pleas have a special resonance for Ethan, for although his own family was as genteel as Colin’s, Ethan spent years on the street and in a nightmare of opium addiction until Colin rescued him. The more they investigate the two convoluted cases, the more Ethan risks backsliding, even with the support of Colin, who is more than his partner in this slanted homage to Sherlock Holmes. Colin has Holmes’ arrogance but is dimpled and charming, while Ethan is a darker Watson. The author, however, is no Conan Doyle.
Harris’ debut is written with a blithe disregard for historical authenticity and a tin ear for period dialogue. Although the relationship between the leads is discreetly intriguing, most of the rest of the characters don’t raise either a chuckle or a tear.