A Study in Revenge
1893, Portland, Maine. Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is called to investigate a burned body and strange occult symbols in an abandoned house. Even stranger is the fact that the body turns out to be that of a known thief, one who was certainly murdered — but by gunshot, not fire, the body already autopsied and buried. To find out how and why he ended up out of his grave, Lean enlists the help of half-Abenaki private consulting detective Perceval Grey. The investigation leads them on a trail of stolen family heirlooms, thaumaturgical societies with insidious leaders, and that alchemical Holy Grail — the Philosopher’s Stone.
This mystery/thriller is the sequel to Shields’s The Truth of All Things, and that novel should be read first for understanding of plotting and especially character relationships; a great deal of this book is taken up with exposition to fill the gaps for those (like myself) who haven’t read the first offering. Shields has created a Holmesian duo — Grey is the detached, brilliant and slightly condescending consulting detective, and Lean a less plodding version of Watson. The villain also has a decidedly Moriarty-like feel, as does his relationship with Grey.
Shields has obviously done his research, and this allows him to adeptly evoke setting, although he also occasionally lapses into irrelevant historical trivia. The fantastical elements (Rosicrucian symbols and alchemy) are treated with enough skepticism by the protagonists to prevent the story from devolving into melodrama. The pace is steady with well-placed action scenes, the dialogue convincing, and the characterization competent. Overall, a well-executed addition to this genre, and a detective duo worth following into the next book in the series.