This, the eighth novel in Douglas’s series featuring the 19th century opera singer/detective Irene Adler, picks up where the previous volume, Femme Fatale, left off: in New York City, where Irene is searching for the mother who abandoned her at birth. Her only clue is a grave marked “Eliza Gilbert,” which her rival in crime-solving, Sherlock Holmes, believes might be her mother’s. As it turns out, “Eliza Gilbert” is none other than the notorious adventuress Lola Montez, Spanish dancer and mistress of King Ludwig of Bavaria.
At first, Irene is horrified by the thought of such a woman being her mother, but as she reads of Lola’s adventures in Gold Rush California and elsewhere (which are interspersed with the main narrative), she comes to admire her. Meanwhile, Holmes investigates a murder in the Vanderbilt mansion; his case proves to have a surprising connection to Lola Montez, and Irene’s investigation.
Spider Dance is an excellent entry in this series, of which I have been a fan for a long time. The relationships between the main characters, which also include Irene’s companion Nell, her husband Godfrey, and Nell’s suitor Quentin Stanhope, are further developed here. But readers who are new to the series should not begin with this volume; it is best to read the books in order, but if that is not possible, read at least Femme Fatale first.