Since I treat myself to a few books last week I thought I’d review them too. The first of my haul was first published in 1994 and is the earliest in the ‘Mary Russell Mysteries’ series.
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 7 Aug 2010
This edition however was published in 2010.
The basic premise is that Sherlock Holmes was a relatively young man when he retired to keep bees on the Sussex Downs, and hadn’t in fact retired. One afternoon in 1915, as war rages across the Channel and London is bombed by airship, a 15 year old girl, distracted by her book, walks, or more precisely stumbles over him watching bees with various spots of paint on them. Thus starts a strange friendship. The pair go on to solve a series of cases together with a final showdown with a new Moriarty in Holmes’s laboratory.
This book is a lovely bit of fanfic; the plot, though not original, is entertaining, and the original characters – Mary, her college friends, Patrick her farm manager etc – are interesting. I’m not entirely convinced Laurie King has captured Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson but it’s close enough for a modern derivative of the canon. I quite like the idea that retirement wasn’t really retiring for Mr Holmes, but maybe his years among the bees softened him?
Mary Russell is supposed to be a much younger, slightly educated and female version of Sherlock Holmes. She matches him in intelligence and observational skill as well as deductive reasoning. She is thoroughly dull at times. And arrogant. And whiny. Until the action starts, when her skills are put to use. Mary is a flawed, relatable character, if precocious. I empathised with her joy in studying and her survivor’s guilt, her affection for the child kidnap victim Jessie and her frustration at the world.
I found the episodic structure of increasingly difficult cases building to the climax gripping, I was on entirely the wrong track for most of the book, and the true identity of the criminal mastermind threw me.
I also really like the cover design in this edition. While I was looking for a picture for this post I saw a few different editions, but I like this best. It suits the setting of the book.
The one thing I found slightly off-putting was the creep of romance that starts to appear about a third of the way in. I think, though it is very subtle in this book it may come to be a major element in the rest of the series. I shall have to wait and see.