My fifth post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King. Previous posts include:
Since my fourth post in July, I’ve read five more of the series:
In this novel, Mary Russell infiltrates a film crew that’s shooting a film Pirate King (based on the musical The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan). She’s the assistant and general dogsbody of the film’s assistant director and has to cater to the whims of the eccentric director. The rehearsals for the film take place in Lisbon while the filming itself is to happen in Morocco. Russell is supposed to find out whether a missing previous assistant was murdered because she found out the film’s directors may be involved in criminal activities (drug smuggling and/or gun running). While investigating, she is also supposed to chaperone or otherwise look after a dozen young actresses who are being wooed by their disreputable acting colleagues, a shady lot of fishers (or smugglers?) hired in Lisbon to play pirates. Things take a sinister turn when the decrepit hired “pirate ship” under its sinister captain reaches Morocco and suddenly the actresses, including Russell, are confined in a well-appointed town house. Russell and Holmes (who joined the film crew later than Russell) must solve the mystery of what’s going on while keeping Russell’s charges from harm.
This was a zany novel, but quite amusing. It was fun seeing Russell hassled by those young actresses and the exotic settings in Lisbon and Morocco was interesting.
Garment of Shadows
Hard to believe, but Mary Russell quite enjoyed working with the film crew of the previous book and stayed on in Morocco to take the starring role in the next film, The Pirate Queen. Horrified, Holmes goes off travelling through Morocco while Russell enjoys her brief sojourn on the film set. However, when Holmes returns, he finds that she has gone missing. This novel is about politics in Morocco between the wars. There’s an uneasy peace between the French colonial powers lead by a distant relative of Holmes’ one Hubert Lyautey (an actual historical figure) and the Moroccan resistance. We meet again the cousins Ali and Mahmoud Hazr (from O Jerusalem and Justice Hall). They are spying for Mycroft Holmes but become disillusioned with their roles because they develop sympathy with the rebel leader. There’s a lot of action in this novel. At the beginning, Russell has lost her memory due to a head injury.
This one was really good. Russell’s way of dealing with her amnesia was well done and the whole novel was very exciting. The novels that feature Ali and Mahmoud are some of my favourites in the series.
Of these five novels, I liked this one best. It’s basically two in one: one plot deals with an acquaintance Russell and Holmes made some years ago while on a ship on their way to San Francisco via Japan. They interrupt their journey in Japan, where they give aid to the Japanese emperor (in a round-about sort of way). I absolutely enjoyed reading about their travels and investigations in Japan. The second storyline involves a character they dealt with in Japan and it’s basically a continuation of the first plot, because some ends were not tied up and lead to England, namely to Oxford, Russell’s home base. Their interaction with their Japanese acquaintance leaves Russell and Holmes outsmarted for a change.
The Murder of Mary Russell
Did or did she not get murdered? Holmes has a few anxious days… the series continues, so basically the reader knows that Russell didn’t get killed, but it was still a good tale. The most interesting thing about it was the backstory we get about Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper and Russell’s substitute mother figure. Also, there’s a bit about Holmes as a young man which was also fascinating.
Island of the Mad
A friend of Russell’s from her time at college (who also appears in the second book of the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women) contacts her because an aunt of hers has disappeared. The aunt was visiting the family home, on leave with an attendant from Bedlam, the mental institution, where she had been living for years. Not only does she disappear, but also jewels from the family safe. Did the nurse do away with her charge in order to steal the jewels? Were the two in cahoots? Russell investigates and is blinded by her unwillingness to face facts, which I ranted about previously.
Despite my annoyance at Russell’s uncharacteristic obtuseness (not to mention that of Holmes), I liked the novel because of the interesting info about Bedlam, the rise of fascism in Italy, and the roaring twenties in Venice. It’s part of the charm of the series that it has so many unusual settings.
I’ve now read almost all the currently available novels in the series; there’s only two more to go. I’ll be all caught up and can wait for new installments to be published (that will probably take some time, as the last novel came out this year). It’s been an enjoyable journey and I hope the last two books will live up to the others – I might get round to them this month, definitively in December.
Keep safe, world.