Set about three years after The Shadow in the North, the third in the Sally Lockhart mysteries sees Sally a single mother in Victorian England following the death of Fred and working in partnership with Fred and Rosa’s extended family.
It has a bizarre yet simple premise. Sally’s husband wants a divorce, her complete estate and sole custody of their child. But Sally didn’t marry and the father of Harriet (her daughter) died in a fire. Somebody wants to take everything that Sally has and they are prepared to create false marriages and a seemingly water-tight paper trail to achieve their goal. What’s more, the person to whom she is supposed to be married is only a puppet in a complex game that also concerns the abuse of Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms of Russia, Poland and Germany. The person behind it is known only as Tzaddik and he is a kind of Victorian Keyser Soze.
This is longer than the two previous novels (over 400 where the others were around 200) and quite a complex mystery to unravel as the plot develops. Unfortunately, it isn’t as gripping as the previous two. It also suffers for the distinct lack of characters familiar from the last two books, especially Jim Taylor. Excellently played by Matt Smith in the two TV films, Jim is a colourful character who added a light-hearted touch to the previous two. He makes an appearance toward the end but early on his involvement is too thin.
Also missing is Rosa, sister to Fred who you would have thought might have been supportive of the mother of her niece, even if as we know, Sally can be as stubborn as a goat at times. These two variables and the bleakness of the plight of the immigrants makes it a far less enjoyable affair and a mystery that plods a little too comfortably. It’s no page-turner.
This is an interesting mystery but unfortunately, it isn’t as good as the other two. I’m looking forward to the final book The Tin Princess.