This is the third book in the City of Mystery series, and takes place in St. Petersburg (Russia, not the place where I live). The Scotland Yard forensics team heads to Russia at Queen Victoria’s request. Her favorite granddaughter, Alix, has fallen in love with a member of the Russian imperial family, and Vicki’s not happy about it. She has already lost one granddaughter to Russia, Ella, Alix’s sister. Ella’s letters seem to be a bit too cheerful, and the queen is skeptical. She was already suspicious, and sent Ella a “lady in waiting,” who is actually a spy.
The imperial family is all staying at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, and is planning for a grand ball to celebrate Tchaikovsky’s triumphant return. There is to be a performance of Romeo & Juliet – or there was, until the leads were murdered in the theater. Ella doesn’t mention this to Victoria, but the spy reports on it. So Victoria decides to head there – with Alix and the team – to show Alix that Russia is not the place for her.
The team starts to investigate the murders, and figure out that there is a larger plot involving the student activists, including a young man named Vlad (see if you can guess who he turns out to be).
Thanks to my useless American education, I know next to nothing about Russian history. I had never heard of Ella, and looked her up. She turns out to have been really interesting (and Alix’s real name is Alexandra, so we know how her life ends up). I like books that make me want to do research. But, Ella – she married the Tsar’s younger brother, who might have been gay. Their marriage may never have been consummated. He was assassinated in a really horrible way, and she forgave the man who did it, and tried to prevent the man’s execution. Then she renounced all of her wealth, became a nun, and started a hospital. Then when the Bolsheviks took over, they arrested her, threw her down a mine shaft with a bunch of other people, threw in some grenades and some brush, set the brush on fire, and left. Not a great way to go.
So the book is fine, the story is fine, but the best part for me was learning about Princess Elisabeth of Hess and by Rhine, also known as Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. She was canonized by the Russian Orthodox church, and she is one of the 20th century martyrs honored at Westminster Abbey. I’m not sure if it’s out there, but someone needs to tell her story.