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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.
King first teamed Mary Russell with Sherlock Holmes in the riveting The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Then Mary was a vulnerable, bright 15-year-old. Now, in 1920, Mary is a week away from her 21st birthday and has finished her studies at Oxford, and the relationship between these two forceful, eccentric and indelibly etched characters is charged with sexuality and issues of authority. A chance meeting with a friend in London introduces Mary to Margery Childe, leader of the New Temple of God, a burgeoning institution in which feminism powers both theological inquiry and programs of social activism. Skeptical, analytical Mary, who concentrated on theology at Oxford, is reluctantly drawn toward Childe and the temple's inner circle, most of whom are wealthy, educated young women. After one of them is murdered, Mary persuades Holmes to help in the recovery of the dead woman's brother, who became addicted to heroin while in the war. While Holmes is so occupied, Mary learns about other unexpected deaths of temple members and determines to investigate. Coming into her considerable inheritance, she displays her new wealth, leaps into temple activities and is soon in danger that threatens her soul as much as her life. King builds a riveting plot on the era's fervent feminism and crushing social order. Even more gripping, however, are the internal dilemmas faced by the deeply rational, fiercely independent Mary as she struggles to accept both Childe's possible mysticism and her deepening affection for Holmes. King's second Russell/Holmes tale lives up to all the accomplished promise of the first. Paperback rights to Bantam; author tour.