Portland, Maine, 1893: Police deputy Archie Lean is called on to view a crime scene—a mutilated body found in an abandoned building, with strange occult symbols drawn near the corpse. This is especially curious because the very same man had been shot dead and publicly buried two weeks earlier. Perplexed, Lean calls on private detective Perceval Grey, an associate from a previous case. Grey, a half-Abenaki Indian, possesses a sardonic wit and loner mentality that keep him at a remove from many others in the community. However, it’s clear that the two quick-witted and persistent detectives, together for their second sleuthing adventure (after The Truth of All Things), have formed a bond.
After studying the body and odd inscriptions, Lean and Grey are off and running. Solving the crime will take all of Grey’s Sherlockian instincts and Lean’s common sense, plus a lot of footwork back and forth between Portland and Boston, where the famous Boston Athenaeum holds a vital clue they must decipher.
A Study in Revenge offers two adventures in one, as Grey has recently responded to a dying man’s request to locate his missing granddaughter. The detective also gets embroiled in the search for a stolen artifact belonging to the man’s family, a so-called “thunderstone,” supposedly an ancient relic of great power. At this point in author Kieran Shields’s tale, we’re fair detectives ourselves if we’ve figured out how all these puzzle pieces will fall into place as the story develops.
The plot is awash in mysterious circumstances and suggestions of the occult. Looming large is the shadowy Jotham Marsh, a Moriarty-like figure who commands a mystical society called The Order of the Silver Lance—he’ll surely materialize again in future books. The story contains enough underground tunnels, rooftop chases, risings from the dead, treasure searches and strange decipherings to keep everyone busy, but despite all the activity, the story tends to bog down when pages of historical detail (from ancient Viking lore to descriptions of the geography of Boston) are inserted in the midst of the text. Readers determined to remain alert, however, will be rewarded with a rich and multi-layered adventure told with skill and attention to detail.