Genres: Historical Mystery
Also in this series: Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies, The Murder of Mary Russell
Also by this author: Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies, The Murder of Mary Russell
It began as a problem in one of Holmes' beloved beehives, led to a murderous cult, and ended--or so they'd hoped--with a daring escape from a sacrificial altar. Instead, Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, have stirred the wrath and the limitless resources of those they've thwarted. Now they are separated and on the run, wanted by the police, and pursued across the Continent by a ruthless enemy with powerful connections.
Unstoppable together, Russell and Holmes will have to survive this time apart, maintaining contact only by means of coded messages and cryptic notes. But has the couple made a fatal mistake by separating, making themselves easier targets for the shadowy government agents sent to silence them?
A hermit with a mysterious past and a beautiful young female doctor with a secret, a cruelly scarred flyer and an obsessed man of the cloth: Everyone Russell and Holmes meet could either speed their safe reunion or betray them to their enemies—in the most complex, shocking, and deeply personal case of their career.
The Russell & Holmes Series
or, why I want to read this book
My daughter and I are eagerly awaiting the April 27 release of The God of the Hive, the latest Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes mystery by Laurie R. King. Unlike King’s previous Russell-Holmes books, her last book, The Language of Bees, left us hanging, with Holmes headed in one direction and Mary in another, each accompanied by someone in need of protection. It’s been a year since the release of The Language of Bees; the wait has been excruciating.
If you haven’t yet read the Mary Russell books, you are in for a treat. The series begins with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, set in the era of World War I. While walking on the Sussex Downs, Mary Russell, a brilliant, half-American, orphaned fifteen-year-old, nearly stumbles across the retired and middle-aged Sherlock Holmes. By the end of their first conversation, Holmes has determined to take Russell on as an apprentice — though it is some time before Russell realizes he is teaching her the craft of detection. Her “graduation” to partner occurs when it becomes necessary for Mary to take the more dangerous role in an attempt to trap the heir of Holmes’s old foe, Moriarty.
The series, ostensibly written by Russell herself, continues through a number of novels in which the relationship between Russell and Holmes deepens into full partnership, marital as well as professional. If the idea of Holmes married to a woman less than half his age seems improbable in the extreme, all I can say is that Laurie King manages to pull it off magnificently. Her Holmes is perfectly in keeping with the original stories, yet he possesses a compassion and depth of feeling only hinted at by Conan Doyle. Too, Mary Russell is Holmes’s perfect counterpart. Though as intelligent, as observant, as cerebral as Holmes, her gender and youth balance and are balanced by his age and experience.
The Russell-Holmes books are more than mere genre mysteries; they are novels of depth and power. By setting the books amid the rapidly-changing society of the post-Edwardian age, and through the Russell-Holmes relationship, King is able to explore topics such as the role and rights of women, the nature of equality, and the delicate equilibrium of true partnership.
King also plays with the literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Holmes canon, as well as incorporating historical events into the novels. Mrs Hudson has moved with Holmes to Sussex as his housekeeper; Watson makes his appearance here and there; and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft has a much greater role than Conan Doyle allotted him. Sharp-eyed readers will spot a brief appearance of Lord Peter Wimsey in A Letter of Mary. The Moor revisits the setting and the events of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and introduces the real-life Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (as Holmes’s godfather!) The Game brings together Holmes and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, now middle-aged, in late-Empire India. Locked Rooms is as much psychological exploration as mystery, as it deals with Russell’s return to the San Francisco of her childhood, where long-suppressed memories of the earthquake’s aftermath return to trouble her.
Perhaps the most gripping and evocative of the novels is O Jerusalem, which takes place in Palestine during a several-month period referred to in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The vividness with which Russell describes the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences of travelling on foot through the Holy Land is as fascinating as the actual mystery, which involves espionage and an attempted terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…)
The Language of Bees picks up on a fleeting reference to Holmes’s son in the second book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and runs with it. Where Locked Rooms focused on the trauma of Russell’s past, The Language of Bees explores Holmes’s own past. Holmes’s son, the troubled surrealist painter Damian Adler, appears in Sussex seeking Holmes’ help in finding his missing wife and daughter, then disappears again. When Damian’s wife is found dead at the foot of a prehistoric chalk carving, Holmes and Russell link her death to a number of other deaths at prehistoric sites. Russell must investigate the connections between Damian, his wife, and a mysterious cult leader.
As I mentioned above, the novel ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger. It’s been a long, long twelve months waiting for the next installment. Thankfully, there are only a few more weeks to wait. (If I’m extra specially lucky, I’ll win one of the advance reading copies from Library Thing. Otherwise, I’ll have to buy the hardcover, or wait even longer for a library copy.)
Edited to add: I didn’t win an advanced reader copy, darn it. But my daughter and I devoured The God of the Hive almost as soon as it came out, and loved it.