An ocean voyage to Japan lands Sherlock Holmes and his amanuensis and wife, Mary Russell (Garment of Shadows, 2012, etc.), in the middle of a tangled web of blackmail.
Most of the passengers aboard the Thomas Carlyle are tedious English types, but there are some interesting exceptions: the Earl of Darley, whom Holmes has already spotted as an amateur blackmailer; his well-turned-out second wife, Lady Charlotte Bridgeford Darley; his gossipy son, Viscount Thomas Darley; Haruki Sato, an NYU-trained economist who comes from a family of acrobats; and a poltergeist intent on playing tricks with the guests’ belongings. It’s not long before Haruki-san and Russell have bonded over lessons in Japanese language and culture, and not long after that, the young Japanese woman persuades Holmes to follow a trail she lays in Japan. The trail, which involves a good deal of more intensive learning and a fair amount of testing for Holmes and Russell, leads to a most unusual request from the highest levels. Can they retrieve a precious volume the emperor of Japan gave King George V a year ago, a volume now offered for sale to the emperor by none other than the blackmailing Lord Darley? Holmes and Russell come close to completing their mission in Japan, but their treasure hunt won’t end until they’re back in Russell’s beloved Oxford, along with the requisite members of the shipboard cast.
Holmes is consistently upstaged by Russell, but King, whose strengths are historical evocation rather than tightly knit plotting (The Bones of Paris, 2013, etc.), manages more surprises than usual in this graceful exercise in cultural tourism–cum-intrigue.