The Lantern’s Dance, by Laurie R. King

January 27, 2024 Book Reviews 2 ★★★★½

The Lantern’s Dance, by Laurie R. KingThe Lantern's Dance by Laurie R. King
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #18
Published by Bantam on 2/13/2024
Genres: Historical Mystery
Pages: 368
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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four-half-stars
Also in this series: Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies, The Murder of Mary Russell, Locked Rooms, Riviera Gold, Mary Russell's War: And Other Stories of Suspense
Also by this author: Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies, The Murder of Mary Russell, Locked Rooms, Riviera Gold, Mary Russell's War: And Other Stories of Suspense

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are caught up in a case that turns intensely personal, shining light on a past that even Holmes himself did not suspect.

After their recent adventures in Transylvania, Russell and Holmes look forward to spending time with Holmes’ son, the famous artist Damian Adler, and his family. But when they arrive at Damian’s house, they discover that the Adlers have fled from a mysterious threat.

Holmes rushes after Damian while Russell, slowed down by a recent injury, stays behind to search the empty house. In Damian’s studio, she discovers four crates packed with memorabilia related to Holmes’ granduncle, the artist Horace Vernet. It’s an odd mix of treasures and clutter, including a tarnished silver lamp with a rotating shade: an antique yet sophisticated form of zoetrope, fitted with strips of paper whose images dance with the lantern’s spin.

In the same crate is an old journal written in a nearly impenetrable code. Intrigued, Russell sets about deciphering the intricate cryptograph, slowly realizing that each entry is built around an image—the first of which is a child, bundled into a carriage by an abductor, watching her mother recede from view.

Russell is troubled, then entranced, but each entry she decodes brings more questions. Who is the young Indian woman who created this elaborate puzzle? What does she have to do with Damian, or the Vernets—or the threat hovering over the house?

The secrets of the past appear to be reaching into the present. And it seems increasingly urgent that Russell figure out how the journal and lantern are related to Damian—and possibly to Sherlock Holmes himself.

Could there be things about his own history that even the master detective does not perceive?

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

A dizzying, delightful kaleidoscope of a novel

I was very excited to read The Lantern’s Dance, the first new Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes mystery since 2021’s Castle Shade. Once started, I could hardly put it down, staying up until 2:30 in the morning to reach the denouement. Like The Murder of Mary Russell, the novel alternates between past and present narratives, slowly revealing hidden connections that surprised and enchanted me.

Readers familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon may recall that in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” Holmes divulges that his grandmother was “the sister of Vernet, the French artist”—probably Horace Vernert (though the Vernet family produced a number of artists through the generations.) From this single quotation and a few other tidbits about Holmes’s origins, Laurie R. King has woven an adventure involving an antique zoetrope, a coded journal, family secrets, missing jewels, and a thirst for revenge several generations in the making. Told from three points of view (Mary Russell, Holmes, and the journal’s author), The Lantern’s Dance is a dizzying, delightful kaleidoscope of a novel, where each new revelation paints the known facts in a different light.

The book begins with Russell and Holmes arriving at Holmes’s son Damian’s home in France, only to discover that the Adlers (Damian, his fiancée Dr. Aileen Hemmings, and his young daughter Estelle) have fled. On questioning the neighbors, Holmes and Mary learn that several foreign men, possibly Indians, have been seeking Damian for several weeks—around the same time that he received a trio of crates and a trunk once belonging to the artist Vernet. A break-in the previous night by a man dressed as a lascar (an Indian sailor) has sent the Adler family into hiding. Holmes immediately sets out to find and protect them, while Russell, hobbled by a sprained ankle, remains at the Adler home to explore the crates and see what can be learned locally. Discovering an old journal written in an obscure and fiendishly difficult code, she sets about decoding it. As she reads, Mary begins to suspect the journal is connected not only to the Vernet family, but to the present-day mystery and perhaps even to Holmes himself.

If I have any small quibble about the book, it’s that I would have liked to see more of the present-day Adlers, particularly the child. The short glimpses of her are as charming as her appearances in The God of the Hive, but far too few. I also would have enjoyed more interactions between Damian and Aileen, and between Damian and his father… though their few interchanges are handled well, and I appreciate the hints of growth in their relationship with one another. Still, this is first and foremost a Mary Russell novel; while we do spend time with Holmes, the focus leans toward both Mary and the journal.

The chapters rotate between the three points of view, with the journal chapters often followed by Mary’s thoughts on what she has translated thus far, and her own attempts to find out more about the men seeking Damian. This sometimes makes for slightly uneven pacing, but on the whole, King build the tension well. My only other quibble is that in one of the plotlines, the danger is overcome a little too easily and the tension fizzles out. But this is not, strictly speaking, a murder mystery; it’s more a series of puzzles both past and present, and the reader has all the fun of figuring out not only the solutions (who are the men seeking Damian, and why? Who is the mysterious journal writer?) but also how they may be connected. I did in fact manage to solve the majority of the interlocking puzzles myself, but I missed a few crucial pieces here and there, and therefore I thoroughly enjoyed the final denouement.

I recommend The Lantern’s Dance to all of Mary Russell’s many fans—you won’t be disappointed! But if you’ve never met Russell or Laurie King’s iteration of Holmes before, you should really start with the first book in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and follow that up with (at a minimum) the short story “The Marriage of Mary Russell” and the two-part mystery contained in The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive; the last two give necessary background on Damian, Estelle (also known as Stella), and Aileen. But honestly, I urge you to read the entire series in order; it’s one of my favorite mystery series of all time, and the order actually does matter.

Challenges: NetGalley & Edelweiss Challenge 2024; COYER Unwind (2024), Chapter 1; COYER Readathon (Read a book from a friend’s list)

four-half-stars

About Laurie R. King

photo of Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 25 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories (from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, named one of the 20th century’s best crime novels by the IMBA, to 2020’s Riviera Gold). She has won an alphabet of prizes from Agatha to Wolfe, been chosen as guest of honor at several crime conventions, and is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology. She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, as “The Red Circle.”

A full list of Ms. King’s awards and honors may be found here..

Mary Russell blogs at maryrussellholmes.com, and tweets as @mary_russell..

Laurie R. King can be found on at the following sites:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Unwind (2024) - Chapter 1
  • NetGalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2024

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