This is the fourth novel in the Lady Sherlock series, and will contain spoilers for the previous novels since the character relationships are very much dependent on actions in previous novels. While all the novels have their own stand alone plots, they very much build on each other for wider context and aren’t the type of mysteries that are relatively stand alone and independent of each. Having said that, Thomas provides enough context throughout the novel that it’s not necessary to reread the previous novels before reading this one.
After all the mysteries and whirlwind of the previous novels, this one is much more relationship focused: Olivia and Marbleton, Lord Ingram and Charlotte, Mrs. Watson and a long lost love from her past. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on in the mystery as well, and for the characters, it is busy – trips back and forth between France and England, reconnaissance of private chateaus on cold nights, and otherwise planning and setting everything into motion, but for the reader, this one felt a bit quieter. This isn’t a bad thing. The art heist/mystery still had plenty of twists to make it interesting, but the author also knew it was time to focus on the characters and their decisions.
Olivia, for example, and Mr. Marbleton quite like each other, but have only interacted in brief exchanges. His life style is completely different from hers, and as much as she wants to escape her parents, she is afraid of making a rash decision and ending up in a situation that might be even more ill-suited. After Charlotte and Lord Ingram finally had sex in the previous novel after a friendship spanning more than a decade with some sexual tension, they are having a hard time getting back into their normal rhythm. They only had sex as part of the case in the previous novel but now that it has happened, it is much harder to deny the attraction and desire they feel for each other. Certain boundaries that have helped define their relationships have been shattered and others (Lord Ingram’s wife for example) are about to be removed. This means they have to internally reflect on what they want. As much as Ash and Holmes care for each other, they both have such different ideas of romantic love and marriage that neither can see themselves making the other happy in the long term.
The final relationship explored is also the reason for this novel’s case. Mrs. Watson receives a visitor from her past, who also happened to visit Mr. Sherlock Holmes for a consultation the previous day. Her former lover was the regent of a part of India and ruled for her son, who is now in his majority and ruling in his own right. She is being blackmailed about some letters, and rather than being asked for money, it involves a Van Dyck that is to be sold at a private auction in France in about two weeks. While it seems a rather odd blackmail ploy, the maharani doesn’t have much choice, and ends up using the help of her old friend, and Charlotte Holmes and all her companions. Olivia even finally gets an opportunity to escape her parents for a long period of time and participate in an adventure, and also gets the chance to truly get to know her paramour.
I really enjoyed this one, but Thomas definitely used the last chapter or two to set the stage for the next novel, completely changing certain dynamics. I also thought a certain conversation might finally happen at the end of this novel only for another character to burst in, thus preventing the conversation and ending the novel on a complete cliff hanger. I can’t wait for the next novel. I feel like I saw somewhere this is supposed to be a five novel series but I’m not entirely sure if that was accurate – on the one hand, I really do enjoy these and wouldn’t mind reading more, but it is also obvious that Thomas has larger plot in mind tying the novels together which would limit the amount of novels in the series. Additionally, I don’t think any of the characters will have their happily ever afters while some of these larger pieces are still out so while I would love to read many more novels in the series, I am also ready to see some the characters achieve their happy endings.