King forswears the foreign intrigue that’s increasingly dominated her Sherlock-ian pastiches (Dreaming Spies, 2015, etc.) to return to the great man’s roots, which are surprisingly intertwined with those of his longtime landlady.
An apparently innocent knock at the door of the retired Holmes’ farmhouse brings his wife, Mary Russell, face to face with a rough-hewn Australian who announces himself as Samuel Hudson, the long-unacknowledged son of Holmes’ housekeeper, and then pulls a gun. While Russell awaits her chance for the counterattack she knows will be necessary to save her life, King flashes back a generation, using a few suggestions from the Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” to spin out the adventures of Sam’s mother, Clarissa Hudson. Beginning even before her birth, the story follows the romance of Clarissa’s parents, an Edinburgh governess and a London thief; the girl’s early years in Australia as her father’s trained accomplice in a series of increasingly lucrative “Cheats”; her repeated attempts to make something of herself, usually by trading on her improbable gifts for assuming different personalities; and the fateful moment when her path crosses that of the young Sherlock Holmes, who transforms her into Clara Hudson and sets her life along a profoundly different path. When the story finally returns to the present, both Holmes and Russell will have a chance to shine; in fact, the case achieves a rare balance between Holmes, Russell, and the mystery they’ve been set. The real star, however, is Clarissa Hudson, whose touching, remarkable, and wholly absorbing life story offers not only a high point in King’s long-running series, but a compelling demonstration of the ways inventive writers can continue to breathe new life into the Holmes-ian mythology.
Canny readers will know not to take the come-on of King’s teasing title at face value; the unwary deserve all the additional shocks they’ll get.