Published by Alibi on September 13, 2016
Genres: Historical Mystery
Format: Kindle or ebook
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Also in this series: Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies, The Murder of Mary Russell, Locked Rooms, Riviera Gold
Laurie R. King illuminates the hidden corners of her beloved Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series in this dynamic short story collection.
In nine short stories, seven of which have never previously been available in print, and one brand-new, never-before-seen Sherlock Holmes mystery available together for the first time Laurie R. King blends her long-running brand of crime fiction with historical treats and narrative sleight of hand. At the heart of the collection is a prequel novella that begins with England’s declaration of war in 1914. As told in Mary Russell’s teenage diaries, the whip-smart girl investigates familial mysteries, tracks German spies through San Francisco, and generally delights with her extraordinary mind until an unimaginable tragedy strikes.
Here too is the case of a professor killed by a swarm of bees; Mrs Hudson’s investigation of a string of disappearing household items and a lifelong secret; a revealing anecdote about a character integral to The God of the Hive; the story of Mary’s beloved Uncle Jake and a monumental hand of cards; and a series of postcards in which Mary searches for her missing husband, Sherlock Holmes.
Last but not least, fans will be especially thrilled by Mary's account of her decision, at age ninety-two, to publish her memoirs and how she concluded that Ms. King should be the one to introduce her voice to the world.
The collected short stories of Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes
Mary Russell’s War is a collection of most of the short stories and anecdotes connected with Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell mystery series (or as many fans think of it, the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.) Since most of the stories have been published elsewhere, either by Ms. King or her publisher, I had already read several of them previously, but I enjoyed reading all (or nearly all) the stories in a single volume. I had intended to interleave them with my reread of the full-length books, putting the entire Russell-Holmes saga in chronological order, but I ended up plowing through the entire collection in a single evening.
A note: Several of the stories are illustrated with newspaper clippings and postcards, which I found very difficult to see or read on my Kindle Paperwhite. I suspect they would work far better on a tablet with a larger screen and higher resolution, and perhaps even better in print. However, the messages on the postcards also appear in the text, so you won’t lose any of the actual story.
Warning: Do not continue reading if you have not read the series through at least The Language of Bees. While I have tried to avoid spoilers for the stories themselves, there is no way to discuss them without potentially revealing significant events or information from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Locked Rooms, and The Language of Bees, and at least tangentially mentioning one or two other books.
Sure you want to continue?
All right, then. The stories:
“Mary’s Christmas” gives us a glimpse into Mary’s childhood in England, before Mrs. Russell and the children rejoined Mr. Russell in San Francisco. It introduces Mary’s charming but reprobate Uncle Jack (never mentioned in the novels) and takes place primarily over the Christmas holidays, the year Mary was 12.
“Mary Russell’s War” was originally published serially on Ms. King’s blog. It comprises about a year’s worth of weekly journal entries, beginning (not coincidentally) with the start of World War I and ending shortly before Mary meets Holmes. Several entries following the accident that killed Mary’s family are penned by Dr. Leah Ginsberg, the psychiatrist (and family friend) who helps Mary cope with the initial grief and guilt over her family’s deaths. While the story offers a picture of Mary as an adolescent, I don’t feel it quite fits the Mary I have come to know through the books, but perhaps that’s due in part to adolescent growing pains followed by the trauma of the accident and a closer aquaintance with the effects of the war. The Mary of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is, at least after the first few chapters, a Mary tempered by the influence of both Holmes and Mrs. Hudson, as well as her war work as a hospital volunteer; she is less self-centered, less arrogant, and less naive than her 14-year-old self as revealed in these diary entries—though equally stubborn.
Next comes “Beekeeping for Beginners,” which I loved. The story recounts Russell’s and Holmes’s meeting and first months of acquaintance from Holmes’s point of view, in both first and third person. The story makes it clear that even after four or five years of marriage and 17 novels, there are still one or two secrets Holmes has kept from Russell.
“The Marriage of Mary Russell” takes place not long after A Monstrous Regiment of Women. On the surface, it’s about Russell and Holmes’s wedding, with welcome cameos from Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and Billy, one of Holmes’s former irregulars who still helps out from time to time. On a deeper level, it’s about the couple’s initial steps in defining how their marriage will work. I found it both charming and moving.
“Mrs. Hudson’s Case” takes place not too long after the Simpson kidnapping case detailed in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. It shows the redoubtable and long-suffering Mrs. Hudson in a different light, and makes the revelations of The Murder of Mary Russell slightly less surprising… but only slightly.
“A Venomous Death” is more of a brief anecdote than a story: the case of a man killed by beestings. “Birth of a Green Man” is also quite short, but gives some insight into the character of Robert Goodman from The God of the Hive.
“My Story” and “A Case in Correspondence” are entertaining, but require more “willing suspension of disbelief” than some fans can muster, since they take place in the early 1990s, when Mary is in her 90s, and Holmes would be over 130. Nonetheless, they are whimsical, even humorous, I and chuckled several times while reading them.
One of my favorite stories in the entire volume is “Stately Holmes,” in which Russell and Holmes return to Justice Hall to spend the Christmas holidays with friends and family: the 7-year-old Duke of Beauville, his mother and grandmother, and Holme’s son Damian and his wife and child. I loved the brief glimpse of these characters, several of whom I had really enjoyed in their respective books.
Missing from the volume is “The Marriage of Billie Birdsong,” a short story or novelette ostensibly penned by Holmes which originally that appeared in The Art of Detection, one of Ms. King’s contemporary Kate Martinelli mysteries. If you would like to read it, it can be found online here. Or you could simply read The Art of Detection.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Seasons 2021: Summer