I really enjoyed about 80% of the book, but towards the end, I kept thinking, wait, that can’t be all. Beyond the completely mystifying headstands in the garret (I get the point of them but could not for the life of me decipher what was actually going on while reading their depiction,) I was annoyed by what short shrift the apprehension of the serial killer earned. There was so much rich, exciting material in the lead up to the solution of this case that for the book to end as abruptly as it did felt odd and unearned, never mind that completely unnecessary letter at the end.
Of that rich, exciting material: Mycroft Holmes is hiding his health issues from his loved ones while also pursuing a personal vendetta against a hated nobleman. During the course of this latter, an acquaintance asks Mycroft for help in locating his abruptly vanished prospective son-in-law. Bingwen Shi is the scion of a noble Chinese family, who happened to be working with a known international arms dealer. Ordinarily, Mycroft would think nothing of assisting, but Bingwen Shi’s intended is Ai Lin, the beautiful, spirited woman he secretly pines for himself.
To further muddle his emotions is the return of his incorrigible younger brother from Cambridge. Sherlock has become obsessed with the so-called Fire Four Eleven serial killer, who seems to choose his victims at random and leave no trace besides a calling card with those three words on it. In fact, no one would even guess that the deaths were anything but natural and unrelated were it not for said calling cards. Mycroft tries to discourage his brother from putting himself in danger but when the next victim proves to be a relation to the queen, he must reluctantly allow them both to get involved.
So this will be the kind of story that aficionados of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more exotic solutions will enjoy. I’m mostly iffy on those, but think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse did a decent job of grounding their plot devices in reality while still painting with Sir Conan Doyle’s palette. I do think they could have done more with telling us the background of the killer instead of just scattering the various hints over the last few chapters. I don’t think we ever actually find out his name, for example. Not that it matters, in the grand scheme of things, but it seems like an odd oversight.
One thing I did very much enjoy and hope to read more of was the burgeoning friendship between Sherlock and Huan. Huan already feels like a much more useful sidekick than Watson, though the former’s steadying influence is likely far more necessary on a young, rash Sherlock than the good doctor will have to exert some years in the future. It was also really nice to see the dynamic between Sherlock and Mycroft from the latter’s perspective. Sherlock is insufferable, as always, and Mycroft’s concern for him understandably verges into scolding, even as Mycroft’s own personal proclivities begin to calcify. Our authors absolutely shine in the way they hint at the canon they’re writing towards with this series. I didn’t enjoy this installment quite as much as I did Book Two, but I am very much looking forward to reading more.