The novel starts with Inspector Treadles at a crime scene, happy to be solving crime on his own, away from Holmes and all that goes along with her, only to run into her and Lord Ingram outside the crime scene. From here, the novel backtracks six days to explain why Holmes and Lord Ingram ended up at a crime scene shortly after police discovery.
Lord Bancroft had asked to meet with Charlotte at the end of the last novel, and they have this appointment early in A Conspiracy in Belgravia. Charlotte is surprised to find that Bancroft (Ingram’s brother) has decided to propose to her again, and in order to entice her further, leaves her with six puzzles/old cases from the ministry. While the first two are quickly solved, the third one involves a Vigenere code that takes Charlotte several days to break. When she finally breaks it, it matches the solution Bancroft gave her, but she digs deeper, leading to a new discovery. Honestly, the interactions between Bancroft and Holmes are some of the highlights of the novel since they are both such odd ducks compared to everyone around them.
During the same six day time span, Charlotte accepts two new cases. One woman suspects her father’s housekeeper might be trying to poison her. Something about the woman’s back story seems off, but Charlotte can’t quite place her finger on it and pursues the case to determine if the housekeeper is trying to get rid of the daughter to advance herself in a classic gold digging scheme. The other visit comes from Lady Ingram, Lord Ingram’s estranged wife (is estranged the correct term if they live in the same house?). Lady Ingram asks Charlotte to look into the whereabouts of a love she had to give up prior to her marriage due to his unsuitability and her family’s need for money. While they have not communicated since the wedding, they have an appointment to pass each other in the park every year, to at least know the other is alive and well, even if they don’t speak. The man didn’t show up to the most recent appointment, and Lady Ingram would like to be assured of his safety, since he also didn’t leave notice in the paper that he would not come. As if Lady Ingram’s relationship to Lord Ingram didn’t already make this complicated enough for Charlotte and Mrs. Watson, she also reveals that the man she is searching for is Myron Finch, Charlotte’s illegitimate older brother. Since Charlotte already knows where her brother lives, the case should be simple enough but her brother appears to be spending a lot of time traveling lately, and is never at his boarding house when she and her partners visit.
Finally, Livia meets a man in the park, and though they are not introduced, is immediately intrigued by him and his ability to discuss novels with her. In fact, after their initial chat, Livia finally gets through her mental block, and starts making progress on her Sherlock Holmes novel.
In other words, quite a few plot points are being developed in this one, and some will end up tying together, while others will simply be stand alone cases/red herrings. However, since there are so many directions, it took quite a while for the novel to come together (in fact, when I noticed that I was more than 50% done, I was surprised because it felt like the novel was still doing initial set up) . I quite liked Inspector Treadles in the previous novel but between him realizing that Sherlock Holmes is a fallen woman and discovering that his wife also had greater ambitions prior to marriage, he is having a bit of an identity crisis which I hope gets resolved soon. If he keeps on in this way, he will be entirely realistic of the period but a bit of a disappointment.
While the ending wrapped up all the loose threads in a convincing manner, the number of seemingly disparate cases did make the novel feel less cohesive than the previous one. There were some great moments in the novel, especially one scene involving Charlotte’s family, but I still would have preferred the novel to weave everything together a bit earlier. Definitely looking forward to the next one and hope it will be a slightly more focused story. However, from looking through some other reviews by Cannonballers, I can see I am also the contrarian one here, since everyone else loved this and liked it even more than the previous novel. To be honest, that sounds about right, I do tend to be the Debbie Downer of any group :p – I prefer to think of it is pragmatism.