An English widow and an anatomist visit 18th-century Germany to rescue a relative accused of murder.
Now that they’ve solved several complicated mysteries on their home turf (Island of Bones, 2012, etc.), Harriet Westerman and her friend Gabriel Crowther must deal with a bizarre murder in the Duchy of Maulberg. Harriet’s brother-in-law Daniel Clode is accused of killing Lady Martesen when he is found raving near her body, his wrists slit. Clode is so well-connected back in England that the duke, whose nuptials are near, orders District Officer Krall to cooperate with Harriet and Crowther. A little research reveals that the carnival mask Clode was wearing was treated with a hallucinatory drug. Harriet is shocked when she realizes that the castrato opera singer and spy Manzerotti, whom she blames for her husband’s death, is at the court. Manzerotti offers her the chance to kill him in revenge, but instead, they come to an uneasy truce and agree to work together. Manzerotti has asked the bright young spy Pegel to discover more about a clandestine revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow the aristocratic rulers. When highly placed members of the organization begin to die in strange ways, always with slit wrists, the sleuths are plunged into a strange world of automata, necromancy, poison and deceit.
Though some readers may find this adventure too long and convoluted, the combination of unusual historical nuggets, a taxing mystery and good writing will please many more.