"The Shadow in the North" is adapted from the 2nd book in Philip Pulman's "Sally Lockhart Mysteries" series, which cast an intrepid young woman as an unlikely detective in Victorian England. It takes place in 1878, 6 years after "The Ruby in the Smoke". Sally Lockhart (Billie Piper) is now in her early 20s and has gone into business for herself as a financial consultant. Fred Garland (J.J. Feild), meanwhile, is officially in the detective business with Jim Taylor (Matt Smith). An elderly client of Sally's suspects fraud when she loses her savings on a seemingly solid investment, so Sally sets out to determine if there is something sinister behind the Swedish businessman Axel Bellman (Jared Lewis) who walked away from the bankruptcy. A conjurer named Alistair MacKinnon (Julian Rhind-Tutt) insists to Fred and Jim that he is being pursued by a murderer he saw in a vision, who is none other than Mr. Bellman.
This BBC production of "The Shadow in the North" allows for much more intricacy of plot and character development than its predecessor The Ruby in the Smoke, which had to devote most of its time to introducing characters. Sally is reluctant to give up her hard-earned independence so shuns any thought of marriage to Fred Garland, who is obviously in love with her. Glimpses of the popular spiritualist movement and Bram Stoker at the Lyceum Theatre are fun historical references. The "steam gun" at the center of the mysteries was apparently inspired by the real Nordenfelt Gun, a multi-barrel machine gun produced in the 1870s by Thorsten Nordenfelt, whose name resembles the fictional inventor of the steam gun, Arne Nordenfels. Sally is more worldly, confident, and perhaps more stubborn than she was at 16, and overall this mystery is less rushed, more satisfying, and the mix of characters from all walks of life creates a nice balance.