Book review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie King

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the 14th in the series of Mary Russell (wife of Sherlock Holmes). This installment is particularly enchanting as it deals with Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’s famous landlady. It turns out that Mrs. Hudson has a backstory and a fascinating one at that.
The book switches between present day events (Mary is missing–has she been murdered?) and Mrs. Hudson’s past, which is somehow intertwined with the question of where Mary is.
In addition to the mystery (or, more accurately, a series of past mysteries wrapped up in the larger current mystery), the book deals with themes of love, revenge, and rehabilitation and what shapes those can take. The mystery(ies) are cleverly plotted, and the writing is sure-handed and deft. And it is both fun and clever to theme this book around Mrs. Hudson.
Four stars and I highly recommend it! (The series is best read in order–if you haven’t read any of the other books, you should anyway!)

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Book review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2)A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, and I think it is even better than the first. Or, rather, the mystery is even better. The first book suffered (relatively speaking, as it was excellent) from having to set up the characters and the plot to establish the existence of a female Sherlock Holmes, and the mystery component of the book took a back seat as a result. In the second book, with the characters firmly established, the author has the luxury of further developing her characters as well as creating a mystery that is both complex and personal to the characters. The tease of Moriarty’s existence that ended the first book returns in this book, a little more front and center but still a tease.
Historical mysteries have a double burden of creating an interesting mystery and staying authentic to the period. The author has done both here. In addition, what I find so compelling about this series is that Charlotte Holmes’s voice rings so true. The Benedict Cumberbatch line in the “Sherlock” television series about being “a highly functioning sociopath” applies here as well. Charlotte’s intelligence is a relatively easy thing to write about. Charlotte’s thoughts as someone who is on the autism spectrum is not an easy thing to write, and her thoughts come across as genuine and consistent throughout the book. It is masterfully done.
I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, and I am hoping there are more books to come!
The series is best read in order.

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Book review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise for this series is very interesting: it posits that Sherlock Holmes is actually a woman, Charlotte Holmes. In this first of a series, Charlotte deliberately loses her virginity in order to carve out a life as an independent woman. She is rescued from her attempt to earn her own living by a former actress, Mrs. John Watson, who befriends her and invests the seed money for Sherlock/Charlotte Holmes to open up a consulting detective business.
The initial mystery is a murder where Charlotte’s sister is the primary suspect. Charlotte is assisted in her investigation by a police officer and a childhood friend.
The author is wide-ranging in her books, writing everything from romances to fantasy. Her research into Victorian times and the role given to women is impeccable. The premise works–Charlotte may not be a self-described high functioning sociopath in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC television series, but she is definitely not within the mainstream of women or men in Victorian society. The mystery is solidly, if not impressively, plotted, and the characters are well drawn.
I really enjoyed this twist on the Sherlock Holmes genre, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie King

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, #13)Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy this mystery series and its unique and interesting take on Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, the past few books have been the weakest of the lot, so I was delighted that #13 in the series proved to be such a delightful read.
The book takes place in 1920s Oxford with a flashback to 1920s Japan. I’ve been to Japan several times and am reasonably familiar with Japanese culture, and the author did an excellent job describing pre-Westernized Japan as perceived through the eyes of the British. Her descriptions were quite accurate and perceptive and made for an enjoyable read (especially when you don’t have to throw the book figuratively against the wall and yell, “That’s simply not how it works.”).
In addition, the plot was extremely clever and well done. While I accurately picked out the major villain, there were several unexpected (at least to me) plot twists. I loved coming to the end of the book and having to do a re-read to pick up on all the clues that I missed the first time. That’s my favorite kind of mystery.
As always in these books, the characters are well drawn, and Mary Russell’s narrative is full of personality and character.
If you haven’t read this series yet, run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore or library, and start reading. (It’s best to read it in order.) And if you’ve stopped reading the series, I highly recommend picking it up again. “Dreaming Spies” is a highly worthy addition!

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Book review: Garment of Shadows by Laurie King

Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell, #12)Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mary Russell mystery series is one of my favorite series. (I know–I say that a lot.) At the beginning of this one, which starts almost immediately after the previous book, “The Pirate King,” Mary Russell is suffering from amnesia and has no idea who she is or what she’s doing in Morocco. Sherlock Holmes is anxiously searching for her, as she has missed their rendezvous. Various events occur–some believable, some less so–but in the end, a mystery is solved, a political crisis is averted, memory is restored, and a couple is reunited.
Mary Russell is one of my favorite characters (yes, I say that a lot, too). She is frighteningly competent but vulnerable at the same time. This story is mostly her story with Sherlock Holmes playing a supporting role. The book is filled with rich detail about Morocco of the early 1900s, and the complexity of the political situation is explained coherently (or as coherently as is possible). The secondary characters are filled in nicely (with some favorite repeat characters appearing), and the story is compelling.
All in all, this book is a fine addition to the series.

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Book review: Pirate King by Laurie King

Pirate King (Mary Russell, #11)Pirate King by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really loved this series, whose premise is centered on Sherlock Holmes coming out of retirement and marrying a young woman very much his intellectual equal, named Mary Russell.
Unfortunately, as of late, the series has gotten a bit inconsistent. The eleventh book of the series, “Pirate King” is an excellent example of this inconsistency.
The premise of the book is a whimsical one: Mary Russell masquerades as a director’s assistant of a film about the making of a film of “Pirates of Penzance” (the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta). There’s a question of some drug smuggling and gun running taking place during the filming of previous films, and Mary decides to help out her Scotland Yard friend, Lestrade, and investigate (and also avoid her brother-in-law, Mycroft, who is planning a visit).
The interweaving of the “Pirates of Penzance” plot with the mystery is fanciful and well done. The secondary characters are well-rounded and interesting. But the book is a little…boring. The mystery isn’t particularly compelling or convincing. And there was very little interplay between Holmes and Mary, which is the strength and charm of the series. There were a few unexpected plot twists, but, in the end, the book’s ending was a bit anti-climactic (and, to tell the truth, I stopped caring about who had done it several chapters before the book ended). In fact, the best part of the book was the inclusion of a “prequel” short story called “Beekeeping for Beginners,” which was a charming story of how Mary met Holmes, from Holmes’s perspective. That was fabulous!

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