Victorian detective Sidney Grice takes on a new client: his own young ward.
March Middleton believes she has no family. Her mother died at March’s birth, and her father was recently murdered. He left March in the care of her godfather, Sidney Grice, who gives her a home but never stops ridiculing her inferior intelligence, her plainness, and her cigarette-sneaking, gin-sipping ways. Even so, March isn’t altogether unhappy with Mr. G, and together they’ve solved some unusual cases. While he’s investigating a murder in Yorkshire, she’s as pleased as she is surprised by a letter from Ptolemy Travers Smyth, who claims to be her cousin and invites her to dinner at his home, Saturn Villa. As a reference, he offers Inspector George Pound, whose ring March secretly wears next to her heart. But Pound’s recovering from a stab wound, and rather than trouble him, March trustingly heads out alone to the villa to meet Smyth, who begs that March call him Uncle Tolly and stay overnight. He also hints that Grice plans to kill her. Before March can find out why, Tolly dies horribly, and March, unaccountably ill and hallucinating badly, isn’t sure she didn’t kill him. Tolly’s valet summons the police, and only the trifling fact that Tolly isn’t really dead clears March’s name—until a series of actual murders puts her in as much peril as her mysteriously altered mental state. Her guardian uses such clues as wax, dust, a woodlouse, a couple of eyelashes, and a pickled puppy’s head to link the recent deaths to disturbing events from March’s past. But can even Grice’s keen intellect and perceptiveness about everything but his own foibles save March from the gallows?
Despite occasionally overworked jokes and a disappointingly abrupt ending, Kasasian (The Curse of the House of Foskett, 2015, etc.) surpasses Grice’s first two cases with a bizarre, clever, and constantly surprising whodunit.