Returning in autumn 1923 to Baker Street from their adventures in The Moor (1997), Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Oxford theologian Mary Russell, find a whopping surprise waiting for them: Ali Hazr, the Bedouin spy of O Jerusalem (1999), is actually English aristocrat Alistair Hughenfort, and his cousin Mahmoud, a.k.a. Marsh, is the seventh Duke of Beauville. But aging, weary Marsh is an unwilling Duke who wants nothing more than to return to Palestine after turning the fabulous estate (much Anglophilic drooling here) over to the heir presumptive—assuming his credentials check out. The problem with the heir apparent, nine-year-old Thomas Hughenfort of Paris, is that it’s hard to understand why Thomas’s father Lionel, who died of pneumonia soon after his son’s birth in 1914, would have taken up with a woman older and plainer and commoner in every way than himself, especially since Lionel was notoriously partial to non-paternal relationships with young boys. Following Ali—oops, Alistair—to Justice Hall, Holmes and Russell aren’t in time to prevent an untimely shooting accident, but with the help of endless interviews, family trees, and revelations of birthright, they do straighten out the Hughenfort line, and solve a particularly vicious murder to boot.
Holmes is muffled, but the mystery, after a sluggish, implausible start, broadens and deepens as the tension rises until all WWI seems to come under indictment. The least successful of King’s six Holmes pastiches is also the most accomplished—if you don’t mind seeing the master detective sidelined.