Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, seek a friend’s missing relative in the most unlikely places.
The year 1925 finds Veronica Fitzwarren’s aunt, Lady Vivian Beaconsfield, still resident in Bedlam, where she’s been clapped up for years and years. But things are about to change. Released for a week’s home leave for the 50th birthday of her half brother, Edward, Lord Selwick, Vivian goes AWOL on the way back to the asylum along with Rose Trevisan, her nurse. When Ronnie begs her old Oxford friend Russell to find her missing relative, Russell thinks the best way to gather information will be to get herself committed to Bedlam. She doesn’t find Vivian there, of course, but she does turn up enough information to send her haring off to Venice, where Mycroft Holmes just happens to want to send his brother on still another hush-hush diplomatic errand. The food, the wine, the location are all superb, and soon Russell and Holmes have insinuated themselves into the social circles of legendary columnist/hostess Elsa Maxwell and nonpareil songwriter Cole Porter. A gander at the locked asylum on the island of San Clemente convinces Russell (Mary Russell’s War, 2016, etc.) that she’s very close to finding Vivian, whose tenancy in Bedlam turns out to have been voluntary for the past few years, and she’s quite correct. But her most shocking discoveries come both after she’s finally caught up with the missing woman and well beforehand, in an obsequious scene between the Porters and a military emissary of Il Duce that suddenly turns ugly.
Precious little for Sherlock Holmes to do, and not much more for his wife, not even in the way of King’s trademark dialogue between the two. Come for the mystery, stay for the sightseeing, the gibes at fascism, and the heroine’s climactic masquerade as silent film star Harold Lloyd.