After completing a case in India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes board a steamer in Bombay to head for California. Along the way, they hope to vacation in southern Japan, but almost as soon as they board, Holmes recognizes a man he suspects of being a blackmailer and immediately becomes wary. On board, Russell makes friends with an intriguing Japanese woman, who ends up giving many on the ship lessons in Japanese language and customs. After arriving in Japan, Russell and Holmes are challenged with what seems to be a complex test of strength, endurance, and cunning, but to what end, they cannot fathom. Once they’ve passed the test, they are swept up in a plan to stop a blackmailer from causing an international incident that could topple imperial Japan. From the high seas, to rural Japan, and back to Oxford, the mystery gives Russell a chance to match her wits against Holmes as well as the blackmailers.
While at times I felt the book dragged, especially in the set-up at the beginning and while they’re onboard ship, once the story got going, it drew me in. The characters were interesting, and the descriptions of the culture and landscape of Japan had me wishing I was traveling alongside Holmes and Russell. Once back in England, the pace picks up again and the intricate mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended.