The Lantern’s Dance

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Series: Russell & Holmes #18
Published by: Bantam Books
Release Date: 2024
Pages: 272


Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are caught up in a case that turns intensely personal, shining light on a past that even Holmes himself did not suspect.

After their recent adventures in Transylvania, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes look forward to spending some time getting to know Holmes’ son, the artist Damian Adler, and his family. But when they arrive at Damian’s house, in a small village south of Paris, they discover that the Adlers have fled from a mysterious threat.

Holmes takes off in pursuit, leaving Russell, who has been slowed down by a recent mishap, to explore the empty house. In Damian’s studio, she discovers some newly-arrived crates that are packed with sketch-books, letters, and memorabilia somehow linked to an earlier generation of French artists, Holmes’ grand-uncle, Horace Vernet. It’s an odd mix of treasures and clutter, including a velvet-lined box holding a tarnished silver lamp with a rotating shade and dozens of strips of paper. On each strip is a sequence of thirteen progressing figures, which dance into motion when the shade is spun: an antique, charming, yet highly sophisticated form of zoetrope.

Deeper down in the same crate is what Russell suspects to be an old journal, although it is written in a nearly impenetrable code language. Intrigued, and trying hard to ignore her anxiety about Holmes, she sets about deciphering the intricate cryptograph. There appear to be thirteen entries. Each, she slowly discovers, is built around an image. The first? A child, bundled into a carriage by her abductor, watches her weeping yet unprotesting mother recede from view.

The decoding is slow, painstaking work, and each revelation leaves Russell with more questions than it answers. Who is this young woman who moved from France to India and then all over the world? What does she have to do with Damian Adler, and the threat that came first to his village, then into the house itself?

The secrets of the past are clearly reaching into the present. And it is increasingly urgent that Russell figures out how the journal and lantern are related to Damian—and possibly to Holmes himself.

Could there be things about his own history that even the master detective has not yet perceived?

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“King’s brilliant tale of a legacy of racism and sexism will remind contemporary readers that those horrors are not new. Huzzah!”
—Leslie S. Klinger, New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

“…the pair is tangled up in a mystery involving kidnappers, a lost inheritance, and burning family secrets. The elaborate family lore King has constructed for Holmes impresses, and she pays longtime readers dividends with a number of satisfying disclosures about the detective’s past.”
Publishers Weekly

“In the new book, The Lantern’s Dance (2024), it is Holmes who must chase down the reality of his own parentage, while an injured Russell decodes an astonishing tale of blackmail, murder, and obsession found in a trunk.”
—Neil Nyren in Crime Reads

“Deftly interlacing present and past, King offers further fascinating insights into Holmes’s family while also delivering an intriguing mystery.”
Washington Post


Chapter One

“Let me help,” he said.

“I can manage.”

“Russell, I’ll get the—”

“I’m fine, Holmes,” I snapped. I was not fine. And when it came to admitting that an infirmity might require some help, I was proving nearly as cantankerous as Sherlock Holmes himself could be.

“I can—”

“Holmes, just pay the ruddy driver, I’ll send someone out for the bags.” Assuming they hadn’t changed their minds as to the invitation. Or gone off to the South of France for the month.

“Watch the—”

“I see it!” And nearly tripped over it, one crutch-leg sliding into an ill-fitting stone on the walk.

But he let me get on with my halting progress, stumping along the walk-way towards the brightly painted door while the taxi-driver undid the rope strapping our trunks and valises in place. We’d expected to be met when we got off at the station in nearby Délieux. And though the absence of a car might have been a message of sorts—that antipathy had returned, that we should simply continue on to Paris—we had been invited, we had accepted, and we had cabled ahead with our information.

And even if the absence of greeting at the station had been due merely to the chronic forgetfulness of an artist, one would have thought that Damian’s doctor fiancée, who had impressed even Holmes as being marvellously competent, would remember the arrival of her soon-to-be in-laws. (Stepmother-in-law? Me?)

I reached the end of the pathway without mishap, negotiated my way up the two low steps, settled my balance so I could reach out for the bell—then stopped, abruptly, three feet from the front door. After a moment, leaving the crutches tucked under my aching arms, I unfurled my fingers from the grips and raised them, hands outstretched.

Resentments, unsettled scores, and long-standing acrimony were one thing.

What I had not anticipated was being met by the sound of a break-action shotgun snapping into place behind me.


Chapter Two

I stood utterly still. So did the person with the shotgun. The voices from the lane concluded their business. A car door slammed, the taxi’s engine clattered into life, the gate creaked, footsteps began—and cut short as the world’s first consulting detective saw the tableau on his son’s doorstep.

The sound of the motorcar faded away. Holmes and I waited, either for the man to pull down on the trigger or to decide that we were not the enemy he seemed to be anticipating.

“Qu’est-ce que vous voulez?” His voice was raised so as to reach both of us. It was not, to my relief, Damian.

“Nous cherchons la famille Adler,” I said over my shoulder. We’re looking for the Adler family.

“Vos noms?”

“The name is Holmes,” came the voice from the gate. “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Ah,” the man behind me said, in English this time. “Good.”

The shotgun mechanism clicked. I let out a shaky breath and lowered my hands onto the crutch grips, manoeuvring myself around.

On the surface, my would-be assailant was a French agricultural worker: soft cap; tie-less, once-white shirt under a working man’s waistcoat and red braces; and soil-coloured trousers of hard-wearing twill. His shirtsleeves were rolled up on meaty forearms, revealing a tattoo whose significance no doubt Holmes would read, but to me looked like a scrawl of dark chalk dissolved by time. His shoes, however, were no peasant clogs, but fit him well and had once cost a pretty centime.

The shoes led me to reconsider his status—and indeed, the set of his shoulders made it clear that this was not a gardener in the habit of tugging his forelock, or even doffing his cap. Beyond that, Damian clearly trusted this man enough to give him the name of Sherlock Holmes.

“Bonjour, Monsieur,” I said.

“You, I think, will be Madame Holmes?”

“Er, yes.”

“I most abjectly beg your good pardon, Madame. I am Gervais LaRue. Monsieur Adler said you would come. Have you hurt—ah, Monsieur,” he said, holding out a hand for Holmes to shake. “I apologise for my ambuscade on your good wife. Please, come in—here, I shall open. Madame, you have injured yourself?”

“A minor sprain, nothing to worry about.” It was a foolish injury, a combination of a small dog, a distracted mind, and some slippery tiles on a Berlin railway platform. My brusque tone of voice told him that I did not wish to talk about it.

He made sympathetic noises, but hastened to retrieve a heavy skeleton key from a pocket and fitted it into the door, fiddling it into place awkwardly around the gun draped across his other arm. “Il faut plus d’huile,” he muttered to himself, then grunted in relief when the key turned and the door came open.

“Where are the Adlers?” Holmes demanded.

“Ah, Monsieur, now that is a tale—come, my wife will bring food, and I will tell you all.”

M. LaRue trotted ahead of us into the dim interior, ducking through one door and reappearing without the gun, then crossing the hallway to disappear through another. His footsteps went soft as he passed over carpet, then came the sounds of windows and shutters being thrown open. Holmes turned back down the path to fetch our bags. LaRue came out, squeezing past me to trot after Holmes. I decided there was little point in blocking the hallway, so stepped inside what proved to be a large sitting room, its stale air rapidly dissipating with the morning breeze.

On the outside, the Adler home was a substantial stone-walled, two-storey, red-tile-roofed French house with bright flowers along the walk and, unlike any of its neighbours in this village to the south of Paris, shutters and door painted an orange so bright, a child might have chosen it.

The inside, too, was a mix of traditional and modern, with a rococo limestone fireplace and ornate fringed ceiling lamps—once gas, now electrical—that looked askance at the brilliant blocks of colour in the carpet and the dozens of bottles lining the wall behind a cocktail bar decorated with a modernist version of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, its polished metal top set with ash-trays from half a dozen Parisian cafés. Gilt-framed portraits and landscapes shared the walls with art that resembled industrial schematics, primitive cave-paintings, or in one case, an artist’s actual palette. The curtains were pale green linen, the seats were mostly Deco armchairs in several shades of darker green velvet, and the low table before the fireplace looked like a piece fallen off of an aeroplane. A leather settee in a startling shade of fuchsia was blessedly muted by the magnificent old Turkish rug draped across it. An elegant antique glass-fronted bookcase was stuffed with modern novels and books for children. On its top was a tangle of deer antlers, out of which peeped a child’s teddy.

The orange doors, angular furniture, shin-endangering table, and avant-garde rectangles of painted canvas on the walls testified to the presence of Damian Adler: Surrealist artist, occasional murder suspect, and consequence of the affair between an American contralto and the world’s most eminent English consulting detective, some thirty years before.

The children’s books and teddy bear were signs of one Estelle Adler, Damian’s four-and-a-half-year-old, disconcertingly intelligent daughter.

The pale green curtains, the modern-but-subdued wallpaper, and the pieces of furniture that looked as if they might actually be used for sitting upon demonstrated the conciliatory influence of Damian’s wife-to-be, Dr Aileen Henning.

And underlying these three strong modern personalities, I caught glimpses of another strong individual: the rococo fireplace, ceiling lamps, and Turkish throw-rug were signs of the opera singer and renowned adventuress, Irene Adler. Damian’s mother, my husband’s long-ago . . . paramour.

This house had once belonged to her. In his early years on Baker Street, Irene Adler had come to Holmes’ attention as the suspect in a case of blackmail—and promptly claimed his youthful heart by outwitting him soundly. He eventually discovered that she was not only innocent, but that she was the wronged party, fighting to protect her future with the man she loved. She and Godfrey Norton had married, escaping with their dignity and their love—only to have it turn to ashes when he died and she was injured in an accident a few years later.

Holmes heard of the accident as he was working his way back across Europe after an enforced absence from London. He tracked her down in Montpellier, to offer his condolences. Matters progressed—only to have her briskly send him on his way home to London in April of 1894, with no more explanation than she wished to return home to America.

What she failed to mention was that she had become pregnant. Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, knew—Mycroft seemed to know most things—but Holmes himself only learned of his son’s existence six years ago, in the already tumultuous summer of 1919. When we met Damian, he was an ex-soldier-turned-artist whose problem with drugs had led to a murder charge. Holmes and I investigated the matter and saw him freed—after which he, like his mother before him, disappeared from view, only in his case, to Shanghai.

So far as I knew, Holmes had never been inside this house that was now Damian’s.

I heard voices from outside: a woman calling a question, answered by a shout from M. LaRue, coming in the front door and going past the sitting room with our bags. Holmes followed, his arms also full. Their two voices came from deeper in the house, then returned up the hallway. I turned on my crutches and followed, finding them in the kitchen—a room where the traditional French furnishings of burnished copper, hand-hewn wood, and practical fabrics gave no ground to modern life. M. LaRue was unlatching a side door onto a tree-lined terrace whose lines I remembered from one of Damian’s sketchbooks, seen long ago.

The woman whose voice I’d heard—who indeed had not ceased to mutter to herself, despite Monsieur’s attempt at explanation—bustled in, pounced on the kettle, filled it from the old tap, slapped it down on an electrical ring that was the most modern thing in the room, crossed the kitchen to give my hand two brisk pumps—down, up, down—then did the same to Holmes, before hurrying out of the door and into the garden. Her ongoing monologue faded along with the sound of her heels on the gritty stone.

“My wife,” M. LaRue offered. “Pauline.”

I looked at the kettle, and at the very British tea-pot beside it. Tea was not a French habit.

Two minutes later, she was back, carrying a heavy-laden basket that she proceeded to unpack onto the wooden table: a baguette, two pieces of cheese (one hard, one soft), half a roast chicken, a bottle of wine with no label, a small pot of liver pâté, and a gorgeous smooth-skinned melon whose late-summer aroma I could smell even over the garlic and cheese.

Holmes surveyed the growing banquet with disapproval, and turned to the husband.

“Do you generally greet strangers with a shotgun?”

“As I said, your son’s absence is a tale, to be told at length.”


A weighty pause lay across Mme LaRue’s ongoing monologue—the baguette was lamentably stale and the chicken was left-overs, there would be better cheese tomorrow after the Délieux Wednesday market—while Holmes and I contemplated the fact that Damian had not only given this man the name Sherlock Holmes, but had disclosed how they were related.

“Tell me now,” Holmes demanded.

“Oh, Monsieur, I did not mean to alarm—they are fine; merely, it was thought that between the questions and the intruder—”

. . . that the grapes were not quite ripe yet so perhaps we could make do today with the melon from the garden, Mme LaRue maundered on.

Two men facing off, one woman attempting to ease tensions with hospitality, another woman whose irritation with herself and apprehension with the situation had been building for days—

I abruptly saw that things had got off to a poor start here. And that alienating these two people—people intimate with the Adler household—by demanding facts before food would not be a helpful way to proceed. In any event, the stuffy air in the sitting room indicated that the family had been gone for a while. What difference would another half hour make?

“Holmes,” I cut in, “perhaps we might want to eat first.”

I held his gaze for a moment, then deliberately picked up the melon in both hands and lifted it to my face, filling my lungs with an exaggerated degree of appreciation. M. LaRue smiled and fetched a corkscrew; Mme LaRue fell silent at last and fetched some plates; and Holmes, after a hesitation, accepted my recommendation and pulled out a chair.

In fact, it proved little hardship to act out the greed of two people who had spent too many days subjected to train schedules across the width of Europe.

The wine was the work of M. LaRue—from vines, he told us, that his father had planted during the reconstitution of France’s devastated vineyards. This opened polite conversation concerning the wickedness of phylloxera vastatrix and the inferiority of modern wine grown on American stock. I quietly drank, and made no attempt to defend my countrymen.

The melon was sublime.

When the feast was nothing but bones, crumbs, and a pot scraped empty of pâté, Mme LaRue asked—in French again, although she seemed to understand English well enough—if we preferred coffee or tea, and said that she would bring it out onto the terrace, where we could talk.

Her husband dragged chairs and a small metal café table into the dappled shade of a plane tree growing over the little pond, and we sat.

The respite, I could see, had achieved the goal of setting the LaRues at ease.

“Alors,” he said. “You will want to know of your son, and why he is not here.”

“If you would,” Holmes said. He drew out his pipe, M. LaRue his cigarettes. I satisfied myself with a tiny cup of madame’s café fort and a glance at Holmes.

He did not meet my eyes.


First Image

The Eyebrow Window

My earliest detailed memory is a picture of the moment my mother gave me away.

I can see her tears. Tears from Maman were always alarming, but these were terrifying, welling huge and silent to spill unchecked down her face. And while normally I would comfort her, wiping them away with my little hands and making loud kissing noises against her cheeks until she yielded to my silliness and her weeping turned to a laugh and then a long, shared embrace, this time I could not even go to her because the arms holding me belonged to the man I called Uncle Christian, and he was carrying me, one inexorable stride after another, down the rose-smelling path from the cottage to the carriage that waited in the lane.

As my point of view expanded, like a frame spreading from doorway to cottage front to the roses and trees around the front, my mother shrank, ever smaller.

I screamed, wailing and kicking, struggling to escape, but my childish muscles were no match for the arms that locked me in. Maman stayed on the step, her arms embracing emptiness, my village nurse, Solange, trying to console her—though that was my responsibility, a thing only I could do! My throat was ripped with frantic screams, and when I heard the creak that meant the garden gate was opening, I lunged over to clamp my sharp teeth into his ear.

His silk hat tumbled away, voices were raised, but the arms stayed tight around me as he bent to climb the carriage steps. The door closed, as startling as the harsh, hot wash of blood in my mouth.

My abductor sat, and I let go my jaws so I could turn and see . . .

The first image of my new life, framed by the carriage window: Maman, a doll-like figure at the end of the path, hair like gold, her dress the colour of the April sky. Maman, surrounded by roses that climbed over the door and around the eyebrow window, the same beloved pink roses that we had found tumbling wild in a vast nearby garden—I could smell the scent despite the distance. Maman: fists clenched, face shiny wet, muscles so tight I could feel them—and yet she did not leave the old stone step. She did not come after me.


The whip cracked, the wheels creaked into motion, and the life I knew fell away.

Uncle Christian’s arms continued to hold me as, one by one, the markers of home went past the window. The girl who brought eggs, still warm from the hens; the man with the missing foot; the dog with the white spot over one eye—all came up alongside, all glanced at the carriage, and all let us go by. No one reached out to stop us.

We had a house in the city, but this was home, the place I knew so well—village and fields, the small forest Maman and I walked in sometimes, a curve of the river that was quiet and safe and unlike the noisy, chaotic city streets. Here we could set off one way to see the hermitage on the mountain, or another if we wished to walk in the footsteps of an Empress. Or a third way—and with that idea, here came the church itself. Surely, I thought, surely the sainte patronne of Paris would reach out and keep me . . . but her chapel went by as well, silent and uncaring.

My sobs turned into hiccoughs, my breath began to catch in my throat.

When our wheels passed over the wide river that meant the city began, I accepted my fate. After a while, I let my head drop, to rest against his shoulder.

One arm stayed around me, lest I fling myself towards the door. The other hand, the one with the wide golden ring, came up to smooth my hair.

“I don’t understand,” I told him, my voice feeling ragged.

“I know.” His head came down, so that he was speaking into my hair. “It is complicated, but I will do my best to help you make sense of it. In the meantime, sweet girl?” I pulled away so I could look into his dark face, seeing myself reflected in those brown eyes of his. He smiled. “I promise you, dear child, I will always help you. I will always protect you.”

I believed him. Of all the uncles I had, Uncle Christian, the least seen and most mysterious, was the one who never treated me like a child. He never invented nice things to say about my drawings, never sent me away with Solange so he and Maman could talk.

I studied the state of his ear. His collar was brilliant red—vermilion, I thought—and although the cravat was too dark to show a stain, blood was creeping down the threads of his white shirt as well.

I turned away and nestled into his chest. The arm around me felt more natural, less like a binding. The city was growing up around us.

“Uncle Christian? I’m sorry I bit you.”

“That’s all right, my little warrior. Your mother would be proud of you.”

As I sank into sleep, wrapped up in his warm and familiar odour, I somehow knew that Uncle Christian would no longer be a colourful visitor, but a permanent part of my life. Knew that I did not have a choice in the matter.

I was, after all, only four years old.