Castle Shade

by Laurie R. King

“Your mother says you like detective stories.”

“I do. They’re so clever, people like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. However, I have to tell you my heart belongs to Bulldog Drummond, said the future Queen.

“Good choice.”

Conversation between Mary Russell and Ileana, Royal Princess of Roumania

Once again, Laurie R. King smoothly melds real historical figures with the latest adventure featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. In this tale, we have Queen Marie of Romania, her daughter Ileana and her lover and great Romanian patriot, Barbu Stirbey. It is set primarily at Castle Bran, Marie’s beloved home and supposedly the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But we also travel throughout Romania and Transylvania.

Mary and Holmes are asked to investigate some strange happenings at Bran Castle. Mycroft suspects they are political orchestrations to undermine the Queen who is rightly much beloved by the Romanian people. There seems to be an effort to tie sinister happenings around the castle and the town such as abductions, dead people coming to life, witchy doings, and even vampirism to the Queen. Having done my due diligence and read up on the political situation and Marie’s relationship to her feckless son, Carol, a political explanation of the mystery seemed credible indeed. I will only say that it is much more interesting than that.

There is plenty of adventure and action as well as mystery, as Mary survives abduction and attack, discovers the source of a ghost-like presence in a secret room, and, with Holmes, races to save the life of a likable local girl. As always, there is amusing banter between Holmes and Mary, and intriguing and titillating insights into their unique relationship. We also get a rare glimpse into Holmes’ inner thoughts regarding his wife, his marriage, and the challenges of his brother Mycroft’s presence in their lives.

Four and a half years of being married to Mary Judith Russell, and he was still finding the adjustment difficult.
For his entire adult life, until the night he signed his full name upon a church register, Sherlock Holmes had been accountable to no one….when he judged it necessary, he had bullied, ignored, and lied, even to his friend Watson, without hesitation.
But not to a wife. A wife meant a contract of a different sort….Serving the needs of brother and Britain had become increasingly incompatible with his partnership with Russell.

It looks like things might be coming to a head between Mycroft, Holmes, and Mary. By the end of this book, you have not only been on an adventure, but feel like you’ve been a guest in Dracula’s Castle, come to know important, compelling, if little known personages in history, and traveled through the countryside and villages of Transylvania and Romania. It’s maybe not for everyone, but I welcome each book in this series. I always feel a little more enlightened about something.**4 stars out of 5**

June 23, 2021

Riviera Gold

by Laurie R. King

[Holmes] shot me a look of long-suffering impatience. “Russell, you do have the most disconcerting habit of stepping into the centre of things.”

Laurie R. King’s Russell/Holmes series is one of the series of books that I am really invested in and I am in it for the long haul. I buy them in Hardback, even though I prefer to read e-books. The Hardbacks are gorgeous, by the way. It’s a “till death do us part” kind of commitment. Literally. Since I knew that this one brought back Mrs. Hudson last seen 2 books and 4 years ago (a couple of months in book-time) I picked up The Murder of Mary Russell to refresh my memory of all that was revealed about her history in that installment. I’m glad I did re-establish that foundation because this book builds on what was revealed and, to me, can only be given a fair reading in the context of that novel.

In May, I had learned that my beloved Mrs. Hudson possessed a History that was scandalous, adventurous, and criminal. Mrs. Hudson, who had looked across her kitchen at a truculent fifteen-year-old girl…and perceived not the ink-stains of education and the accents of an upbringing, as Sherlock Holmes had seen, but the clear signs of pain and hunger and emptiness….But I was very young when I lost my family. The loss of Mrs. Hudson felt like a second abandonment…I realized…that what I wanted most was not to tell her that I forgave her. What I wanted was for her to forgive me, for having judged her.

Riviera Gold concerns the establishment of a new chapter in Mary Russell and her surrogate grandmother, Sherlock Holmes’ Mrs. Hudson’s relationship. Is it the final chapter? I doubt it. This book ends with some unresolved questions that will more than likely be satisfied another day in another installment.
As with all of the books, one of the strengths of this one was the exotic locale and meeting the historical people King’s books are peppered with. In this one, we are gifted with Sara and Gerald Murphy, Pablo Picasso, Basil Zaharoff, and, most prominently, Lily Langtry. We also get a passing glimpse of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and a mention of Sidney Reilly (Ace of Spies). The reader is truly transported into the foreign country that is the past. And they do indeed do things differently there. The primary attraction of these books is not, for me, the adventure and the intrigue but the complex and deeply drawn personalities of Mary Russell, and Sherlock Holmes, and their intriguing and sometimes titillating relationship.

“…if I’m to face a taxi drive back along the coast, maybe I should drink myself unconscious.”…”As you like. Although when I checked in, I did mention that my wife might be joining me.” Nothing about him suggested that it mattered one way or the other to him-nothing but the quiet humour in the back of his eyes that traced a feather-light finger all the the way down my spine. I cleared my throat. “Well. I should hate to disappoint the management.”

I did not fool him one whit. But then, neither did I believe his apparent lack of interest in my preference.

So in Riviera Gold, besides relationship development of fascinating people that we also care for, we are immersed in a murder mystery with our Mrs. Hudson briefly jailed and under suspicion, lost Romanov gold, smugglers, casinos, being too close for comfort with a ruthless and powerful arms dealer, conspiracy and betrayal, Jazz Age society, and the daring and dramatic last-minute rescue of a principal in the stories.

On to the next adventure which will apparently involve Vampires in Romania! I’m all in. **4 stars out of 5**

July 24, 2020

Island of the Mad

by Laurie R. King

“If one plays on fear, takes away any remotely complicated ideas, and offers people a sense of confidence and right, one’s followers will beat to death any enemy they are pointed at.”

I enjoyed this installment very much. Mary and Sherlock spend a lot of time together and demonstrate both affection and respect for each other. Although it’s never mushy, you can see their devotion if you read between the lines. There is a welcome return to her featuring real-life famous people (or famous fictional people!) in her plots. This time it is Cole Porter and his wife, Linda, and also Elsa Maxwell. I love the way she places the sleuths in interesting and important historical places and times. This time, it is in Italy (Venice) as Mussolini has just come to power. We experience, through the duo’s adventures, the high times of the rich globe-trotting socialites before the depression. The rescue mission they embark upon, which leads them to Venice, is engaging and satisfactorily concluded with a diabolical scheme that neutralizes the bad guy most entertainingly.**4 stars out of 5**

June 20, 2018

The Murder of Mary Russell

By Laurie R. King

He shook out the match and dropped it into the laden bowl. “I met Clarissa Hudson in the autumn of 1879, when Samuel was an infant. A year later, she returned from Australia without him. Three months after that, in January, 1881, Watson and I took rooms in her house. Outside of that,” he said, “I made her a promise. That so long as her past remained behind her, I would make no further enquiries into her life, pursue no more investigation into any crimes and misdemeanours she might have committed. From that day, her slate was clean. I gave her my word,” he reiterated.

One of the very best in the series. It is Brilliantly conceived and executed, building on one of Holmes’ early cases written by Arthur Conan Doyle. At first, I was wondering what in the world Ms King was thinking going into so much detail about Mrs. Hudson’s parents, their courtship, her birth and terrible childhood, etc. but somehow, it worked. I still think she could have cut back on some of that, but the upshot was a very deep character study which made the former (almost)nonentity a fascinating and remarkable woman. Sherlock Holmes introduction into her life (at age 17 or 18) takes place on page 137 and it is classic. The mystery leaps back into the present at page 200 and all of the threads are tied together at the remarkable and thrilling finish.**5 stars out of 5**

April 22, 2016

Garment of Shadows

by Laurie R. King

Great recovery from the disaster that was The Pirate King. As Always, Ms King folds in real historical personages into the story to interact appropriately with the fictional characters. Because of this and the little known but fascinating history of the region, I would strongly recommend keeping Wikipedia handy. If you like a little education, exotic locales, and history with your mysteries, this effort by Laurie King will appeal. Sherlock and Mary start off apart, and the first pages or so when Mary has amnesia is a little slow, but it picks up considerably when Sherlock makes the scene. She doesn’t keep the couple apart too long and doesn’t drag out Mary getting her memory back too long either. Actually, I would have liked to see more of her “fresh” take on her husband and more of how Sherlock deals with a wife who does not remember anything about the glory that is Sherlock Holmes. Still, their interactions are nicely done. As always, the puzzle takes second place, but there is a nice little WTF?? near the end. It seems as if Mary and Sherlock may be headed towards a final showdown with Mycroft, who is proving to be the worst sort of diabolical manipulator of history and politicians to advance his own agenda. **4 stars out of 5**

July 17, 2013

Friends and Foes

by Sarah M. Eden

After being disappointed by Stella Riley’s The Parfit Knight, the first of the Rockcliffe series of historical romances, I thought I’d get right back on the horse with historical series and try again with Friends and Foes the first of the Jonquil Brothers series. I didn’t like this one either. My main problem with this book was that I found the heroine, Sorrell, a real pill. I had multiple problems with the way she acted, but that pretty much sums it up.

There were a lot of things that Sarah Eden wrote that did not make sense. When her good friend and kind hosts learned of her disability, why didn’t they move her to a bedroom on the first floor? No, she just keeps trudging painfully up and down two flights of stairs throughout the whole book. Why did she keep having debilitating weakness, illness, and fever from broken bones that healed (albeit poorly) years ago? I’m not a medical professional but I’ve never heard of such a thing. When the misunderstanding over “the correspondent” she was visiting in town happened why did she think our hero Phillip was discouraging her from pursuing medical relief from her constant pain when she knew he had no idea she was even considering such a thing? My head was spinning. Even if Phillip thought she was having an affair when she was seeing a doctor and was jealous, why didn’t he help her off the floor when she was begging for help after she had fallen in the library? Even if it kind of served her right because she was constantly refusing help she greatly needed, what happened to his sense of human decency all of a sudden? Why did he lie to Sorrell that he was unacquainted with his partner Garner when he knew Sorrell not only saw them together, but had a conversation with both of them together at the inn? Some spy. And worst of all are the loose ends. The author just dropped the important plot point of her possibly getting her leg fixed, for example. If I had been engaged with the plot and characters or if the writing had been outstanding, I could have overlooked these silly mistakes, but as it was I was constantly irritated and frustrated.

Oh well, I guess I need to move away from historical romances. It wouldn’t be the first time. **2 stars out of 5**

June 3, 2021

Some Brief Folly

By Patricia Veryan

Although I prefer her two other series to the Sanguinet series, the latter has some excellent books in it, and this is one of them. This title is not technically part of the Sanguinet Saga proper, although it is certainly in the same universe. It does not have the two eponymous villains in it or nor are they even mentioned for that matter. The only conspiracy is a personal one against our hero, Garrett Hawkhurst. What it does have are some brief appearances and mentions of some important characters that float in and out of the 6 book Sanguinet series: Tristram Leith, Harry Redmond, Jeremy Bolster, and Diccon off the top of my head. Hawkhurst and Mia Buchanan are separately both close friends with the same set of players in the series though they themselves have never before met. It is set at the great estate, Dominer, that was the home of the Duke of Marbury 5o or 60 years ago and featured prominently in The Golden Chronicles and its prequel, The Mistress of Willowvale. In that book, The Duke (called Muffin), who is one of the most memorable characters in the series, decided to bequeath Dominer to Kit and Leonie Thorndyke, Lord and Lady Aynesworth, his neighbors and friends due to his love for them and because they do not have an estate of their own to pass on to their own descendants. It’s a long story and that’s enough background. All this history is barely mentioned in this book, although it does provide some interesting context for readers familiar with the doings in The Mistress of Willowvale and The Golden Chronicles.

Euphemia (Mia, thank God) Buchanan, her brother Simon, along with her page, Kent, a former chimney sweep whom Mia rescued, are on their way to their Aunt’s place in Bath for Christmas. They are caught by a landslide while sightseeing on Dominer land and almost killed. Their lives are saved by Garrett “Hawk”(of course) Hawkhurst in an incredible act of bravery and risk to his own life. Simon and Kent are badly injured necessitating staying at Dominer for an extended period of time along with Garrett and his entertaining and eccentric family. Garrett is rumored to have murdered his wife and child some years before and so is shunned and ostracized by London society. It doesn’t take long for Mia, and later, Simon, to realize that he has to have been falsely accused. Indeed, Garrett is the victim of one of the most dastardly plots one can imagine. It is pretty evil, even for Patricia Veryan.

Garrett is a typical Veryan hero: Honorable, devastatingly attractive, falsely accused of something, and too much physical courage for his own good. He’s also too honorable for his own good, for that matter. Mia is one of my favorite heroines. She is beautiful, intelligent, sensible, brave, irreverent, and hilarious. Everyone loves her. The residents of Dominer all have unique personalities that spur the action along and entertain the reader. Among others, there is a dotty accident-prone aunt, a seemingly weak and bullied nephew, a sweet and shy sister, and a cantankerous and intimidating grandfather. There is darkness in this book, indeed, but it is leavened with some of the most comic scenes Veryan has written. And she can really write a comic scene, as well as provide witty banter to spare. She is also a master of thrilling fights, tense chases through the countryside, and dangerous threats and escapades. In this book, instead of her trademark action-packed climax, she has two! And of course, a passionate love story, beautifully developed. Two actually.

The resolution is as joyous as the mental and physical sufferings are harrowing. Just when you think the hero has suffered more than he can bear, Veryan doubles down. This can be very hard on the reader, as by this time we are very invested and anxious for the fates of all concerned. The mind-boggling, if amply foreshadowed, a coincidence that is at the heart of the happy ending can be forgiven. To add to the chaos and tension there is a lovably out-of-control dog, who becomes an unlikely hero at the end and saves the day.**5 stars out of 5**

May 29, 2021

Moonraker’s Bride

by Madeleine Brent

Madeleine Brent’s books all follow a certain pattern, but it is an intriguing and enjoyable pattern indeed! The heroine always has an unusual background outside of ordinary society. She is usually thrust into that society and the story becomes a “fish out of water” story, and then usually it becomes incumbent upon her to return to her origins to solve the mystery/rescue or become reunited with the hero. Off the top of my head, some of her heroines have been circus performers, raised by aborigines, English girl raised in China (Moonraker’s Bride),half-Caste Indian girl raised in Tibet, Daughter of a notorious Jewel Thief, A young English girl living in a Paris Garrett with a shocking past, rescued from a harum, etc. As predictable as the plots are, they are utterly fascinating and engaging. Great Romance as well, though adventure is the #1 focus. the hero and heroine spend a long time apart in most of her novels, and it is never more true than in this one.

I don’t have a specific review for this particular book, because it has been so long since I last read it. I practically know it by heart so probably will not re-read it anytime soon. I felt I had to include it, because it is a sentimental favorite and my actual favorite, along with Merlin’s Keep. The heroine is the author’s most endearing among a pantheon of very endearing heroines created by this author. And it is laugh at loud funny at times. **5 out of 5 stars**

Stormswift

by Madeleine Brent

**Kind of spoilery. a few things are revealed, but they won’t come as any surprise to a fan of this author***
What a wild ride this one was! And I believe this was my first reading. I find it hard to believe I could have missed this one, although it follows ”her” usual established plot outline and characters, and so is theoretically easy to conflate with other stories.

I believe structure-wise this is quite possibly her best book. Madeleine starts weaving her spell from the very first page, as usual. Our first person heroine-narrator had been captured and held as a wife, then the slave of an Afghanistani tribal chief, before being sold to a village doctor to whom she becomes his nurse and like a daughter. Of course, she is English and of gentle and wealthy birth, though she is now an orphan. Her “master” learns that she is to be sold to a cruel and mad rival leader and he enlists a mysterious peddler to try to get her to a British Outpost. **Spoiler**

The peddler, who turns out to be a British spy, is set up from this point to become the love interest, and the reader is all for it. He is a great character, and very similar to the many love interests in other Brent novels. A good 50 pages are spent with them on their journey and developing the relationship.**End Spoiler**

 They succeed, of course, and the rest of the book is spent on her adventures in England. When she gets to her family estate to claim her inheritance from her massacred parents, she finds she has been replaced by an impostor(!) She is cast out and is taken in by the clownish owner of a traveling Punch and Judy show and his gypsy girlfriend(!!) Before she is restored to her rightful birthright, 

**Spoiler**she learns her buddy, the puppeteer, is really a wealthy if eccentric English Lord, is taken in by his mother, is falsely accused of stealing, becomes the companion of a beautiful and benevolent lady, meets up with the peddler/spy again, tangles with a Rebecca de Winter type evil genius, and, of course, again usual in a M. Brent novel, she returns to her old stomping grounds on an exciting and benevolent mission. **End Spoiler**

 So many things happen to this girl, it is mind-boggling. What I have listed doesn’t even scratch the surface, but it flows together and makes sense.

I believe somewhere in the middle, the author changed her mind about the final fate of our heroine, Jemimah, and went in a completely different direction than what the reader was prepared for. I won’t say more, but I loved it! If this story had been written by someone else, I think that the shock of Jemimah being done out of her true identity and fortune would have taken up most of the focus of the plot. But Jemimah has so many other adventures and twists and turns in her life, that this actually gets put on the back burner. After all, she reasons, she is just lucky to be alive with shelter and food! I loved how completely justice is served, how Jemima is exonerated, and what a happy and exciting life she is set up for.

The Long Masquerade

by Madeleine Brent

When I first started The Long Masquerade, I felt sure that I had read it long long ago. But now that I’m finished I’m not so sure. The first part seemed vaguely familiar, but that was probably because it is so similar to the beginnings of her other novels. The bells it was ringing in my memory got fainter and fainter as the book went on. I could not figure out who her love interest was going to be until about the 70% mark. I was pretty sure it would be one guy because it would have followed the pattern set in all of her previous novels. Trying to avoid spoilers here. But I got to be as impatient with the character as Casey, our heroine, was. I hoped it would turn out to be the other guy. Other than that break from her usual pattern, The Long Masquerade will hold no surprises for the Madeleine Brent devotee. Adventure, mystery, and lovable characters abound, and you will wonder why you are so enthralled when all of her books follow the same template. It’s “her” writing, and her signature template, though pretty much unchanged throughout her novels, stands out so from other authors. Only the names and settings change. I will say that one of the twists, I did not see coming, but I had the other one I figured out from the beginning. When we finally reach the last page, we have not one or two, but four happy endings! Sigh.

Trigger warnings: domestic abuse kept thankfully very vague, and some unfortunate racial terms used towards the end. ***4 1/2 stars out of 5***

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

January 14, 2019