Mycroft Holmes, charged with ensuring the personal safety of Queen Victoria, calls on his brother for help when a number of attempts have been made on her life and when two unexplained deaths occur amongst the staff at her Scottish residencies. Accompanied by Dr Watson, Sherlock Holmes goes north by train, examining the few facts Mycroft has been able to cryptically supply. To Watson's bafflement he is sure there is a link between these deaths and the murder in the old royal apartments at Holyrood of the secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots: a killing which left a bloodstain that daily refreshes itself and in a room where voices can be heard in the darkest hours of the night. Can Holmes's extraordinary deductive powers solve the historical crime as well as the contemporary one? An original, beautifully crafted mystery story which is also a respectful homage to the master of the whodunnit.
Writing a Sherlock Holmes tale is, for popular writers, equivalent to playing Hamlet for male actors: a challenge that few refuse and many regret. Bestselling author Carr (The Angel of Darkness, etc.) acquits himself with honor, though not high honors, in this short novel that pits Holmes, Watson and Mycroft Holmes against conspirators at Queen Victoria's Royal Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, Scotland. When the men are killed at Holyrood in a fashion similar to the slaying centuries before of David Rizzio, an Italian confidant of Mary, Queen of Scots, Mycroft, who is Victoria's head of intelligence, calls upon his brother and Watson to help solve the mystery. Are the killings the work of Scottish nationalists? Or perhaps the sign of a restless ghost? From the latter question, and the novel's primary setting of the dank castle, emanates a well-drawn atmosphere of gloom that makes this story a nice companion to The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes fans and scholars should be pleased with this novel, which generally hews to "the Canon" (unlike, say, Nicholas Meyer's Seven-Per-Cent Solution) and reflects a deep knowledge and understanding of Holmesiana, but the primary base for this novel will be, of course, Carr fans, who won't be quite as thrilled for while the novel captivates, it matches neither of Carr's previous megasellers in plot invention or depth of character. Still, this should hit bestsellers lists, though not in a major way. .FYI: The afterword by Lellenberg explains that this novel grew from a story that Carr was writing for a forthcoming Carroll & Graf anthology of original Holmes stories dealing with the supernatural, Ghosts of Baker Street. Lellenberg goes on to plead to Carr that he writea novel featuring both Holmes and Laszlo Kreizler, protagonist of The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness.