Get to Know a Series: Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell Novels

Laurie R. King joins us at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest novel, The Murder of Mary Russell, on Sunday, April 10th, at 2 PM. You can find copies of King’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

In support of Austin Public Library, 5% of sales of all Laurie R. King titles sold in store on Sunday April 10th and 5 % of sales of The Murder of Mary Russell the week of April 5th will be donated to the library. This includes pre-orders or web orders for folks who can’t attend the event.

 

-Post by Molly Odintz

My sister and I have been following Mary Russell’s adventures since we were teenagers, the same age as Mary Russell when she first appeared in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, ready to rescue Sherlock Holmes from the provincial life and to become his partner in crime-solving. A few books later, Russell became not only Holmes’ equal in detection, but his match in life, earning the series the tagline “the world’s greatest detective — and her husband.” Their romance stems from their mutual respect, but is made practical by the lack of suitably cultivated young men in post-war Britain, and flourishes due to a non-stop set of adventures in every corner of the British Empire and every level of London society.

Laurie R. King, in creating the character of Mary Russell, has nicely adapted the Conan Doyle canon to a more feminist outlook. King discards the casual bigotry of Victorian writing, all the while glorying in the style and historical detail of her settings. By placing Sherlock Holmes in the swinging twenties with a partner who combines the soul of an antiquarian with the fashion sense of a Bright Young Thing, King re-contextualizes Conan Doyle’s stolid, nineteenth-century plots and characters in the modernist chaos of a post-war world.

Each novel in the series uses a different classic Sherlock tale as its jumping-off point, but can be enjoyed by readers with only a basic knowledge of the series. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Womenand A Letter of Mary explore the post-war budding of feminism, and feature Mary Russell’s skills as a sleuth and scholar. The MoorKing’s fourth Russell novel, is a 1920s take on The Hound of the Baskervilles, with some post-war skepticism to round out the original tales’ 19th-century faith in science.

O, JerusalemKing’s fifth novel in the series, takes Russell and Holmes to 1919 Palestine on a mission for Mycroft and the British government. Modern politics meets ancient history in Russell’s first overseas case. Although reminders of the Great War are ever-present in the Russell series, Justice Hall, the sixth in the series, features more explicit discussion of the horrors of war. Russell’s next appearance, The Gametakes the detectives to India in service of the British Empire once again, although with growing doubts about the validity of colonialism.

Locked Roomsthe eighth novel in the series, explores Russell’s childhood in San Francisco, and reveals at last the reasons for the car accident that killed Russell’s family during her childhood. In the next two installments in the series, The Language of Bees  and The God of the HiveRussell and Holmes help Sherlock’s long-lost artist son, shell-shocked from the war, find his missing wife and daughter.

The Pirate King takes the two detectives to Portugal, where they go undercover in the silent film industry. A Garment of Shadows is set in North Africa, and features an amnesiac Mary Russell, separated from Sherlock, who has been embedded in a North African revolt against France and Spain. In Dreaming SpiesMary and Sherlock take the slow boat to Japan, where they encounter a gymnast and a blackmailer, and take on a mission for the Japanese imperial family.

9780804177900That brings us to her latest extension of the series, The Murder of Mary Russell, in which King delves into the mystery of Mrs. Hudson for a lively and thrilling tale. While Mary Russell faces mortal danger in the first few pages of the novel, the narrative skips between lengthy sections on Mrs. Hudson’s past and short bursts of Mary’s present for some time before alerting us as to Russell’s fate.

While I initially thought I would feel tempted to skip over the Mrs. Hudson bits in the unbearable moments before learning Russell’s fate, Hudson’s story is so engrossing, at points I forgot all about Mary’s Schrodinger-cat-like state between life and death. A unique take on an old character and a complex and satisfying plot make this one of the best installments in the series to date. Fans of sassy 19th-century social climbers will be particularly pleased with Mrs. Hudson’s rambunctious youth.

I’d put it on par with Locked Rooms and A Monstrous Regiment of Women as my three favorites in the series – so far. The Murder of Mary Russell proves that King is still at the top of her game, and still ready to blow our minds with feminist interpretations of Holmesian characters.

Laurie R. King joins us at BookPeople to speak and sign her latest novel, The Murder of Mary Russell, on Sunday, April 10th, at 2 PM. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. You can find copies of King’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

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