-Post by Molly
I have been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels ever since my sister pressed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice into my hands and, one Sunday afternoon, I finally read it. I immediately fell in love with the indomitable Ms. Russell and her adventures with her rather-older paramour, Sherlock, as they wandered across the world, putting the lie to Holmes’ rumored retirement and semi-permanent bachelor status, and solving cases for who-knows-which governments, in the province of soon-to-be-gone empires, for the benefit of the not-for-long wealthy and their soon-to-triumph underlings. In other words, Laurie R. King situates one of the greatest Victorian creations in the context of a steadily declining empire, and modernizes him by pairing him with an American-Jewish scholar-flapper well able to keep with with Sherlock’s complex cases.
In Dreaming Spies, Russell and Holmes are headed to Japan on holiday after finishing up a case in India. Upon boarding their steamer set for the South Seas, they soon discover that a blackmailer may be on board the ship, and he may have sinister intentions for those on board and those awaiting him at his destination. Russell and Holmes take some valuable lessons from a Japanese gymnast just returning from school abroad, and while learning all about the customs and culture of their destination, also begin to suspect their tutor in all things Japanese may know more about the mysterious circumstances of the blackmailer on the boat than she initially led them to believe.
The book is split into three parts: the journey to Japan, journey through Japan, and the later appearance of a Japanese visitor to Russell and Holmes’ country house in Britain. The book dedicates most of its space to the equally exotic environments of a luxury sea voyage in the 1920s (the last days of the great ocean liners) and Japan in the process of modernization yet still very much rooted in traditional practice. Without ever losing sight of the plot, King gives us charming digressions into such topics as the importance of determining one’s table mates for the duration of a long sea voyage, the vicious competition over train seats in an otherwise polite Japanese city, and the pleasant intermingling of Japanese and English gardening styles.
King, as always, has done her research, and Dreaming Spies is full of rich historical detail, much of it charming tidbits – the type of minutiae that end up in the end notes of the history books, but bring historical fiction to life. King’s latest is also full of intrigue, blackmail, spies, and of course, a healthy dose of murder most foul. You don’t need to understand the historical background of Japanese-English relations in the 1920s to enjoy Dreaming Spies – in fact, King becomes rather playful in the sizable conspiracy taking up much of the book, which by the end, reaches epic proportions.
You can find copies of Dreaming Spies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.