Friday, September 28

Locked Rooms - Laurie R King

The trip from Bombay to San Francisco brings Mary Russell three kinds of repetitious bad dreams - about objects flying through the air, a frightening faceless man, and a house which always changes but to which only she has the key to a secret room. Usually a sound sleeper and possessed of a healthy appetite, Mary's nights become restless and her husband is hard-pressed to get her to eat anything.
Despite his urging, Mary is also unable to see a connection between returning to her childhood home - last seen a decade earlier - and her growing agitation. He believes there's more to it than the trauma of Mary being the sole survivor of an automobile accident that killed her parents and beloved younger brother, and even if he's unaware of the cause of her guilt (that it was her teenage arguing with young Levi that caused her Papa to be distracted), she should listen to him - after all, Mary Russell is married to that most redoubtable of all detectives, Sherlock Holmes.
The novel not only manages to combine several mysteries into a satisfying whole, but also effortlessly and lightly paints a picture of San Francisco in the 1920's, the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, and survivor's guilt, among other things. As we have mentioned before, giving an unlaboured sense of not only place but time is no easy feat and, like the wonderful Kerry Greenswood, King evokes Chinatown, the coast, flapper nightclubs and the wealthy part of San Francisco in a way that combines exquisitely researched detail with a relaxed and subtle style.
This is the eighth in the Mary Russell series, and I enjoyed it at least as much as its forebears. It is unique in that about a third of the novel is written in the third person rather than Mary's characteristic first person. No huge fan of the original Homes novels, I had no small amount of trepidation opening The Beekeeper's Apprentice, but to my surprised delight found I had discovered a great new (then) series that has managed to maintain credibility throughout. Mary is much younger than Holmes, but without question his equal; their relationship strongly reminds me of the Peabody/Emerson relationship in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, while Mary herself also reminds me of the wonderful Phryne Fisher, and the books are equally 'sticky' - they seem to irresistibly stick to the palm, not allowing themselves to be put down until the story is completely read, no matter how late the hour or how pressing the following day's engagements. Don't go past this series! - Alex

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