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Dreaming Spies: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

3/5. Another Russell/Holmes book of the usual formula – going back in to fill in a previous gap in the timeline with an international adventure which, in the middle of the book, catches up to narrator-standard-time in England.

Eh, you know, the charm is wearing off here.

Things I am in this series for: (1) the picture of a marriage of two very smart, very independent people who love each other, but do not need each other and they both know it; (2) Holmes's disguises; (3) partnership; (4) cleverness.

Things Laurie R. King is in this series for, these days: (1) Cultural tourism (Japan, this time); (2) set pieces.

This was competent, and I am bored. More clever sleuths loving each other but living their own lives, less travelog, please.
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Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell, #12)Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I genuinely like this series of memoirs from Sherlock Holmes’s late-life partner and wife, but I shake my head in bafflement over every second or third one. This is a story of amnesia and intrigue in French and Spanish Morocco in the early 1920’s. A lovely sense of place, as usual, but otherwise . . . no. There is a good book here, it’s just that this book only intersects with that one for about twenty pages. The emotional crux of the book lies neither with Holmes nor Russell, and we only get to know what it actually is in dried out retrospect, recounted in one of the endless attempts to explicate the overbaked plot into something digestible by way of everyone sitting around and talking about it for pages on end.

I mean, I respect her for trying new things, I totally do. The last book was a pirate caper, this one is a straight-faced amnesia espionage story. Just, when you try new things, sometimes they’re a miss. And at this point, I really, really, really wish this series would cough up a good old murder mystery. Remember those? Sherlock Holmes solved them? …Yeah. Me neither.




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Pirate King (Mary Russell, #12)Pirate King by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


So this is Laurie R. King writing a book about fictional Mary Russell who has written another memoir of an adventure with Sherlock Holmes, this one about the time she went undercover as an assistant to a crew making a silent movie about a crew making a movie about The Pirates of Penzance.



By all rights, you should need to diagram out the layers of narrative and meta narrative, but you don’t. As usual, King passes but lightly over these points, and in fact pauses briefly to make fun of critical readings of narrative and identity constructs.



No, basically, this is a romp from Portugal to Morocco, with real pirates and fake pirates and a lot of actresses and a parrot. Don’t bother hoping for a classic mystery, or anything more than a desultory and deliberately silly bit of plot frippery. These aren’t critiques, mind you. I mean, this book thinks it is somewhat more hilarious and charming than I thought it was, but it was pleasingly diverting. There just isn’t much besides the frippery, and a definite lack of Holmes. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is not my Sherlock Holmes. He is hilariously functional, just for starters.





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The God of the Hive (Mary Russell, #10) The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Second half of an inset duology, where Sherlock Holmes and wife face the threat lurking behind recent familial turmoil.

A disappointment. Look, I enjoy these books as transformative works, and as mysteries (which is rare for me). This installment was not a mystery, it was a thriller, with all expected stupid POV tricks and general limpness. There was actually one of those awful sections where we’re supposed to believe Russell is unknowingly knocking on the villain’s door with a dramatic chapter break and switch to villain POV, only to discover pages and pages later that they were at separate addresses. I mean, really? This is not what I read about Sherlock Holmes for, thanks.

This book also shuffled the emotionally engaging plot thread – Irene Adler’s son – almost entirely offstage and replaced him with your standard issue cardboard creepy villain POV while our heroes wander around trying to figure out who he is. Yawn. I don’t read thrillers for many reasons, and this book demonstrates about seven of them.

Positive: Russell contemplating imminent arrest and wondering if they let you have books in prison. Oh Russell, I love you.

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The Language of Bees (Mary Russell, #9) The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hmm, this is making me think about series structure.

Translation: I actually read this book in late April/early May, which is not so long ago as the crow lives, but which is roughly twenty years in law school finals time. So I forgot most of the things I actually thought about the book. Shut up.

This is book nine of a series, and part one of an inset duology. And the thing is, I love series fiction. My absolute favorite books are actually favorite series, because there’s just so much more room to make a universe I want to devote brainspace to. And when you read as fast as I do (hint: like a jackrabbit) a series can be like a long, perfect road when you know you won’t stop if you don’t have to, and thank God there’s lots, so you don’t.

So I love development and momentum and nonlinear series orders and series with a plan. This series, as a general body, has all those things.

This book, though. It’s really good, actually, all conspiracies and uncertain loyalties, and a subtly running thread about Russell trusting her instincts. But if I had read it a year ago when it came out, without the direct sequel in hand? *shakes head*. It’s not the cliffhanger, though there is one. It’s that it’s only half a story in the spiritual sense on top of the literal. I got to the end of this book, and thought, “yeah, cliffhanger, whatever, but why do I feel like I was going hand-over-hand along a rope that suddenly got cut?”

I think it was because this book is only half the story, thematically. There’s some beautiful work done here on the back of the surrealist art movement, talking about madness and sanity, but it doesn’t really connect up until you read the sequel. This is a book about madness, that is a book about – well, about a kind of sanity. And if I’d waited a year, I’d be rating both books much lower because I remember a lot of things, but I wouldn’t have remembered my exact place in this pattern.

So a clever, unusual series structure, potentially defeated by publishing schedules. News at 11.

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Locked Rooms (Mary Russell Series, #8) Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Books 4-8 of that series where young woman meets, studies with, and eventually marries Sherlock Holmes. I'm . . . ambivalent.



Good things" Pretty writing. Good research. Not infrequent veins of emotional or intellectual or historical richness. Commercial derivative fiction that's actually interesting!



The bad: not always succeeding in that admittedly hard task of writing about historical people and their views on race and gender while neither alienating modern readers or being anachronistic. (These books fail in both directions, on different occasions).



But the greatest sin of all is that, right up to Locked Rooms, Sherlock freaking Holmes was about as dull and sanitized as he could get. I mean, she started by virtually hand waving the drug addiction, but apparently all his quirkiness and baggage went, too. I mean, Sherlock Holmes! You have to try to make him uninteresting. That does get better in the last book




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