Nearly 40 years after the suicide of Emperor Theodore III, Abyssinia is back in the news—or at least on the blotter for Supt. Sholto Lestrade (Lestrade and the Dead Man’s Hand, 2000, etc.). The demise of Captain William Orange and his three nieces when the broken traces of their carriage send them hurtling to their Maker is only the beginning of a rash of suspicious accidents, each of them marked by sudden death and the presence close by of a broken Abyssinian mirror. Sherlock Holmes’s old police foil traces the fatalities from King Edward VII’s 1906 empire back to the dusty colonial adventure, during which Intelligence Captain Charles Speedy disappeared soon after claiming to have discovered a secret beyond price. Now the tune Speedy used to whistle forms the rickety backbone for a murder plot as far-reaching (ten victims) as it is improbable. His trademark obtuseness and shameless puns and malapropisms to the fore, Lestrade wades through the gore and the political complications (from the twilight of Queen Victoria’s empire to young Princess Victoria’s impending marriage to Alfonso XIII of Spain) to confront the most unlikely killer in his 14 adventures so far available in the Colonies.
Cameos by Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Walter Dew, amateur spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle (though Holmes himself is absent), and John Buchan, who at the fadeout is preparing to turn the whole mess into a much better novel than this one.