In this sequel to The Ruby in the Smoke, several years have passed. The year is now 1878, and Sally’s business as a financial consultant is growing, together with her partnership with professional photographer Webster Garland, his dashing nephew Frederick who moonlights as a private detective, and their cockney friend Jim Taylor, who haunts the backstage of London theaters when he isn’t writing melodramas or helping Fred and Sally. It is Jim who brings Fred his latest case: a stage magician named Mackinnon fears for his life after receiving psychic impressions of a murder committed by a powerful industrialist.
By a fateful coincidence, Sally happens to be looking into the same industrialist at the same time, trying to find out why a shipping firm went under after one of her clients invested her life savings in it. Somehow, the disappearance of an ocean liner, the murder of a Swedish engineer, the merger of a railroad firm and an armaments factory, and the powerful Axel Bellman’s plans to marry the beautiful daughter of a bankrupt government minister are all connected. And at the center of all the connections is an evil that could shake the world.
So, naturally, Fred, Sally, and Jim carry on investigating it, even while their lives and livelihood are threatened. At first Fred swears that he is only in it as an investigator, with no interest in fighting bad guys. But then a buxom lady spiritualist get her head bashed in by a couple of hired bruisers, and now Fred’s blood is up. While he and Jim go around frustrating the bruisers’ plans to kill Mackinnon and destroy the life of a disfigured girl who loves him, Sally receives threats of her own. By the time she discovers a clue at the patent office, an assassin is already trailing her, looking for a way to get around—or through—the protection of her faithful dog Chaka.
One attempt on Sally’s life goes awry, but another villainous attack on the friends proves tragically effective. In the throes of a grief that the reader will vividly share, Sally confronts the most evil man of her time, fortified by the recklessness of despair. Will it be the end of Sally Lockhart? Obviously not. This book, alternately titled The Shadow in the Plate, is only the second of four “Sally Lockhart Mysteries,” followed up by The Tiger in the Well and The Tin Princess. And that is good news for readers who have fallen in love with a young lady who aspires to an independence enjoyed by few women of her time. The warmth of her friendships, the passion of her relationship with Fred (mild “Adult Content Advisory,” here), the persistence of her quest for justice and her faith in the power of a liberal society, give this mystery a depth of emotional power beyond the ordinary; while the scale of the threat to civilization, represented by her enemy, makes it certain to thrill.