It is 1921 and Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes's brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology, is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell's attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn.
This is the darkest book in the series, and one of my favorites. Holmes and Russell have been together for years now, and their relationship is going through another change. Russell is now an adult and ready to explore. When she takes a case of her her own, Holmes has to take a step back and let her go her own way. This book is the one that really sets the tone of their future partnership. Holmes' understated yet very intense emotions come even closer to the surface when Russell is threatened, adding another layer to their already complicated feelings.
The character of Margery Childe is complex, unique and fascinating. She has such a mixture of passion, intelligence and ignorance. Her vibrant personality draws people to her like moths to a flame, including Russell. People around Margery are dying, but is she the one to blame? Margery's theological philosophy combined with Russell's expertise in the field lead to some interesting conversations that really get you thinking. Also, Margery is a wonderful illustration of both the pros and cons of extreme feminism.
Drug use plays a very important role in the story. First with young Miles, the fiance of an old friend of Russell's who has returned damaged from the Great War. Then with Russell herself. Not wanting to give anything else away, I will just say that the latter half of this novel becomes deeply personal and painful for both Russell and Holmes.
I became so engrossed in the characters of this novel, their flaws and imperfections, their emotions and reactions. This novel has some of the best character development I have ever seen. I would recommend this book to all lovers of mystery, historical fiction and well-written characters. It is not one to be missed.