A new adventure for Charlotte Holmes—the Victorian lady detective who poses as a man named Sherlock—brings old mysteries to light and buried passions to the fore.
Picking up a few hours after the events of Thomas' A Study in Scarlet Women (2016), the novel starts with the misleadingly sweet-faced, golden-locked Charlotte being hired—through intermediaries—to track down a married client’s missing ex-lover. The assignment poses a conflict of interest because of its connection to Charlotte's dear friend Lord Ingram, and it soon appears to concern Charlotte's family as well. Not only is there a mystery man who keeps seeking out her sister Olivia, but other players from the previous case seem to still be involved in a high-stakes game. As if this weren’t enough, Charlotte is being wooed in unorthodox fashion by Ingram's brother, who's also a higher up in the British secret service. Coded messages are the theme of this episode, but the necessary technical explanations of ciphers and secret communication could lead a reader to skim. As a result, the mystery feels convoluted and might need a second reading to be fully understood. Fortunately, descriptions of the sleuth’s self-defense lessons and devoted pastry consumption provide a lively counterweight. There’s also an inevitable repetitive quality to passages that display “Sherlock’s” powers of observation and deduction through a charade she and her team enact for new clients. More deliciously unpredictable is Charlotte’s continuing association with Ingram; their unconsummated desire is held in check only by her lack of romantic inclinations and dispassionate knowledge of her own flaws—and his mistakes. Several subplots serve to underline this motif that men may love women and yet harm them through arrogance or self-interest.
This second mystery solidifies the lineup of our heroine's allies and nemeses while leaving matters intriguingly open-ended on the personal front. Readers of Victorian fiction, romance, and detective stories will each find something to draw them in.