MysteryPeople Review: DREAMING SPIES by Laurie R. King

dreaming spies

-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.

If You Like Laurie R. King…

-Post by Molly

Laurie R. King is one of my favorite authors of historical crime fiction, and ever since my sister finally convinced me to read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King’s first novel starring Sherlock Holmes and his assistant (later to be his spouse) Mary Russell, I’ve been hooked on the series. King’s appeal is certainly not based on riding the coattails of the Sherlock Holmes phenomena – instead, King uses one well-established character, Holmes, drops him in the middle of the 1920s, and creates a companion for him worthy of the change in setting. Here are a few recommendations for the Laurie R. King fan…


day of atonement1. Day of Atonement by David Liss

David Liss has been writing historical fiction with Jewish characters gallavanting about the 18th century world for some time now, and his latest, Day of Atonement, set in Lisbon around the time of the great Lisbon earthquake, is a masterpiece of historical crime fiction. Framed as a revenge thriller, Day of Atonement is a fun fact-filled and action-packed thriller. It’s either the Jewish Count of Monte Cristo or the 18th century Inglourious Bastards, take your pick.


maisie dobbs2. The Maisie Dobbs novels, by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear writes mysteries starring the working class girl, wartime nurse, and amateur private detective Maisie Dobbs, who spends her time in post-WWI England solving crimes with their roots buried in the war. Recent additions to the series include A Lesson in Secrets, Elegy for Eddie, and Leaving Everything Most Loved. For those who enjoy Laurie R. King’s chosen time period, Winspear’s novels are a must-read, especially upon the 100th anniversary of World War I.


jack of spies3. Jack of Spies – David Downing

Good espionage novels set around World War I are unfortunately few and far between. With the help of David Downing, already known for his brilliant series of spy novels named after different European train stations and set during the dark days of World War II, this may change. Downing published Jack of Spies, his first novel in a new series set during World War I, earlier this year, and here’s to hoping that he writes just as many installments of his new series as of his previous John Russell series.


Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.