Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 2

This is my second post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, which I used to be keen on, but then lost track of. Here is the previous post:
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 1

In February I read the next two installments in the series, books 3 and 4:

A Letter of Mary

This novel (as all the previous ones) again has the framing story (just a couple of pages at the beginning) that the author, King, pretends to just be the editor of the book, the manuscript of which was sent to her from an undisclosed source.

The novel’s action is set in August and November 1923, two years later that the previous installment, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. It’s again told in the first person by Mary Russell. She and Holmes are now married; Russell is pursuing her theological research while also working with Holmes on cases. Occasionally Holmes is engaged on cases by himself. They seem comfortably settled in their marriage, when suddenly they receive a visit by Dorothy Ruskin, an older woman amateur archeologist whom they had met during the course of travels in Palestine (reported in the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice). Ruskin has found a potentially very important ancient letter which she wishes Russell to keep and deal with as she deems appropriate.

When Ruskin returns to London, after having visited Russell and Holmes in their Sussex home, she is killed in what seems a car accident. Russell and Holmes travel up to London to identify the body and find that the accident was staged. Dorothy Ruskin had been murdered and her hotel room searched. Had the murderer’s been looking for the ancient letter?

Naturally, Holmes and Russell start investigating. During the investigation, Holmes goes undercover as a handyman to check on Ruskin’s relatives, her rather uncongenial sister and her son. Russell takes on a job as secretary for a womanizing Colonel, who is also a suspect. In the course of her investigation, she is briefly aided by Lord Peter Wimsey. A nice touch for Wimsey fans:

“Good Lord, it’s Mrs Sherlock!” The foolish, slightly lopsided face with the too-bland eyes registered amazement at seeing me in this setting.
“No, it’s not, “I corrected him severely. “It’s Miss Mary Small, whom you’ve never set eyes on in your life.”
His grey eyes flared with interest and amusement even as his face and posture lapsed instantaneously info the silly-ass act he did so well.

Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary. Bantam, 1998, p. 214.

There are a lot of false leads in this case, but in the end Russel and Holmes manage to ensure, with the help of the victim, who had taken some precautions of her own before being murdered, a kind of poetic justice.

During the book we learn a lot about Russell and Holmes life together, we learn some more about Russell’s childhood trauma, we get to meet Mycroft Holmes again. Feminist themes are again addressed, which I am always interested in. A good read!


The Moor

As I’ve mentioned in my February Reading post, this fourth part of the series is one of my favourites. It starts off with the usual editor’s comment about the unknown provenance of the manuscript of the novel, with the interesting addition that the editor (that is, King, the author) might have been sent them by the ‘real’ author (that is, Mary Russell). A nice playful touch. Russell would have to have been in her late nineties at the time the novel was published.

The novel is again reported from Russell’s first-person perspective. It is set in Dartmoor, where years ago Holmes solved the mystery of the Baskervilles’ Hound. Holmes has been called to the old home of his friend the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, because of some reports of strange, almost supernatural goings-on on the moor. And he’s also investigating a case on the side for his brother Mycroft. Holmes calls Russell away from the scholar’s life in Oxford to help him on the case.

Really intriguing about the novel is that Sabine Baring-Gould is a real person, who led a rather interesting life and wrote lots of books and novels himself, many of them about Dartmoor and the surrounding countryside. Whenever I read this book, I feel inspired to read some of his writings, but so far I haven’t managed to get around to it. Maybe later this year…

The plot itself involves a lot of tramping about on the moor to follow up reports of a ghostly carriage that’s been seen here and there. On the way, we learn quite a bit about the moor and the people who dwell there. As might be expected, it turns out that there’s a rational explanation for the supernatural sightings (as was also the case with the Hound of the Baskervilles). The house of Baskerville and its owners are involved in a complicated attempted fraud that is, of course, foiled by Holmes and Russell.

In addition to the “Editor’s Preface”, there a very interesting “Editor’s Postscript” about Sabine Baring-Gould and one of his descendants who wrote a fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes! Another of the fun intertextual elements the series abounds in!

I like this installment of the series because of the atmospheric setting, the inclusion of a real person, as well as the allusions to the classic Hound of the Baskervilles. One of the best books of the series.

Keep safe, world.

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