Monday, October 15, 2012

Garment of Shadows by Laurie King

Reviewed by Doris

There seems to be a great revival of interest in Sherlock Holmes. The new TV series Elementary and the remarkable BBC series Sherlock along with a couple of authors writing new Holmes stories have fueled the imaginations of a whole new Holmes audience. There is a series of books of Holmes stories done by author Laurie R. King that I have particularly enjoyed over the years. These Holmes stories do have Sherlock in all his glory, but the main character is Mary Russell Holmes, Sherlock’s much younger apprentice and eventual wife.
Beginning in the spring of 1915 with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice King takes Mary Russell from her teen age years as acolyte to the great detective who has retired to the English countryside into the 1920’s with all the changes in the world brought about by World War I. A most unusual young woman, Mary Russell shows the same intrepid behavior one expects from Holmes. A combination of crime stories—after all Holmes must have a mystery to solve—historical fiction, and a bit of romance, Russell and Holmes travel the world during a time of much upheaval. King brings into her stories themes of women’s’ rights, politics, oppressions by governments, and religious freedom and expression in a way that shows both how far we have come and how little things have not changed for many places in the world.

The just published Garment of Shadows is the twelfth books in the Mary Russell Holmes series and is set in Morocco. Russell wakes up one day unsure of her whereabouts, wearing native garb, blood on her hands, and no clue who she is. Just to keep things interesting there seems to be a war going on and French soldiers may be hunting for her. Meanwhile Holmes is roaming the Atlas Mountains dodging bullets and visiting with a relative, happily unaware his wife is missing and an amnesiac. Using the unsettled and often brutal history of Morocco as a core element of the story, King writes to her strengths in this book. The characters of Russell and Holmes are well-drawn. The settings with their exotic locales and strife set a stage for action and intrigue. The relationship between Holmes and Russell is both tender and prickly and often amusing. A couple of old friends from Palestine turn up to add to the drama and to a final twist in the plot.

As with any series there are some books better than others. Kings says of her first book in the series, “The Beekeeper's Apprentice was intended as a coming-of-age novel, in which a brilliant young mind grows into its own under the guidance of an equally brilliant, if unlikely, tutor: one Sherlock Holmes. That book set the stage for a life (and a relationship) that has circled the globe both physically and metaphorically,and over the decade of their adventures, she has definitely evolved.” Most of the books in the series have been best sellers and acclaimed, but books nine, ten, and eleven veered way off course and the books were not worth the effort. With Garment of Shadows King does return to her strengths and the novel is a lovely read.

“The great marvel of King’s series is that she’s managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart.”—The Washington Post Book World

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