If you're a fan of this series, you've probably noticed the author left some gaps in the timeline between other books. There were allusions to the couple's "Japan adventure" & now we get the whole story.
Told in 3 parts, the prologue finds Mary & Sherlock finally home in Sussex after months of travel. They're both looking forward to rest & a chance to reacquaint themselves with the familiar. Mrs. Hudson's cooking, english tea....and a large rock in the garden?
It wasn't there when they left but is definitely familiar. It's just that the last time they saw it was the year before in the garden of the Emperor of Japan. Mary leaves Sherlock to puzzle over the new addition & takes off for her house in Oxford.
Unfortunately, there's another surprise waiting for her. Haruki Sato arrives on her doorstep, bleeding profusely. And she has a story to tell.
In part 2, we go back a year to 1924 & their time in Japan. It started innocently enough. Mary & Sherlock boarded a ship in Bombay on the first leg of their journey to America. They recently wrapped a case & are taking some time to attend to personal matters. But among the passengers Sherlock spots an old nemesis....Lord Darley, travelling with his much younger second wife & adult son.
Several years ago, Sherlock suspected he was part of a blackmail scheme but could never make it stick. Now they'll be sequestered together for weeks & he sees a golden opportunity for a little snooping, much to Mary's chagrin.
She determines to stay out of it & spend her time reading. Also on board is an intriguing Japanese woman named Haruki Sato. As the days turn into weeks, they become friendly & Haruki ends up teaching classes in Japanese language & culture to a group looking for ways to fill their time. But Mary's spidey senses tell her the young woman has a few secrets.
She's not the only one. The passengers are an eclectic group of academics. dissolute young men, "modern" single women & members of the british upper class. There are clandestine meetings, odd snatches of overheard conversations, a missing passenger & the ship poltergeist. After a surprising midnight encounter, there is a swift change of plans & Mary & Sherlock end up leaving the boat when it docks in Japan.
The bulk of the book is the story of their travels among the cities & villages of this fascinating country. They encounter poor farmers, expats, geishas & Prince Hirohito himself as they attempt to prevent a scandal with huge political & international implications. Mary & Sherlock are changed forever by their experiences & a heartbreaking loss.
Part 3 takes us back to present day Oxford where Mary gets some shocking news. Apparently events in Japan didn't end the way they believed & she's quickly conscripted to help Haruki wrap things up permanently.
This has long been one of my favourite series. The books are consistently well written with a narrative that flows effortlessly & pulls you in from the first page. This is one of the best of the bunch. Buoyed by seamless prose the adventure plays out, taking you from exotic Asian locales to the repressed class system of England.
Descriptions of the Japanese countryside in particular are so well rendered that it's easy to leave your favourite reading spot behind as you picture the scenes in your head. The prologue acts as a teaser & hints there is a great story ahead, one full of intrigue, wit & tragic consequences.
Characters are diverse & well rounded with distinctive voices. Some are exactly as they appear, some are playing a role. It's only as the story lines unfold that you get a sense of who's who but not until the final chapter are you sure. It's the kind of smart & convoluted plot typical of the series.
The relationship between Mary & Sherlock is as entertaining as ever. Somehow, this bookish young woman & odd older man have formed a partnership that works. Part of the enjoyment comes from their verbal sparring that is always sharp & full of dry humour. They smooth out each other's rough edges & there's an obvious (if repressed) affection between them.
I guess you can tell I'm a fan. So I can pay this book my highest compliment: I read it in one sitting. It was worth the wait.