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

Mary Russell’s War and Other Stories of Suspense

By Laurie R. King

There were several excellent pieces in this collection, and several that I’m not sure needed to exist. The good: “My War Journal” (this one inspired me to again speed read through Locked Rooms right in the middle of MWJ, which I thoroughly enjoyed), “Beekeeping for Beginners” (previously read, enjoyed again this time) and the same with The “Marriage of Mary Russell,” and “Stately Holmes”. Worth reading were “My Story, or The Case of the Ravening Sherlockians”, “Mary’s Christmas,” and a “Case in Correspondence.” A lot of reviewers seem to have a problem with the magical realism of the Ravening Sherlockians. To me it is Laurie King’s nod to the real Sherlockians who like to pretend to believe that Sherlock is a real historical person. I don’t have a problem with it. Besides, I love the way she incorporates fictional characters as if they are real in her novels which is kind of the same thing except kicked up a notch. Her whole series is written as if it were true, when we know it’s not. So why have a problem with Sherlock Holmes still alive in 1992? I actually kind of loved it! **3 out of 5 stars**

June 27, 2018

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

Dreaming Spies

by Laurie R. King

This 13th in the Holmes-Russell series had some very interesting aspects, Particularly the insights into Japanese culture. My main problem with this book is that although Mary and Holmes spend the entire book together, there is no hint of affection and closeness that one glimpses occasionally with her other books. (Mary Russell keeps her private life private, even from her readers, in all but her first 3 or 4 books.) But Holmes is virtually a nonentity in this one. I correctly suspected many parts of the mystery beforehand as it progressed.**3 out of 5 stars**

April 15, 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