Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #16
Published by Bantam on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes turn the Riviera upside-down to crack their most captivating case yet in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”
It’s summertime on the Riviera, where the Jazz Age is busily reinventing the holiday delights of warm days on golden sand and cool nights on terraces and dance floors. Just up the coast lies a more traditional pleasure ground: Monte Carlo, where fortunes are won, lost, stolen, and hidden away. So when Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes happen across the Côte d’Azur in this summer of 1925, they find themselves pulled between the young and the old, hot sun and cool jazz, new friendships and old loyalties, childlike pleasures and very grownup sins…
I wish that Mary Russell and Phryne Fisher could meet – they are, after all, contemporaries. If it ever happens, I’d very much like to be a fly on that wall. They feel very much like sisters under the skin, so any meeting between them would be explosive. Possibly literally. I would say that I wanted to witness a meeting between Russell and Lord Peter Wimsey, as this is also his era and the world that Russell inhabits, particularly in this story, is also his. But that meeting already occurred, somewhat surreptitiously in multiple senses of the word, in A Letter of Mary.
Not that Mary doesn’t become casually involved with several luminaries of the “Lost Generation” in this story, notably Pablo Picasso, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Gerald and Sara Murphy. And that’s after becoming acquainted with Cole Porter during his Venice sojourn in the previous book in this series, Island of the Mad.
Mary gets around, both as the wife of Sherlock Holmes and as herself. And the case in Riviera Gold is one where those two roles come into a bit of a conflict.
As Mary discovered in The Murder of Mary Russell, her now-former housekeeper, the grandmother-of-her-heart Clara Hudson, was not exactly the shy, quiet, retiring and unassuming ladylady/housekeeper that Mary had assumed her to be. Rather, that was a role that Clarissa Hudson camouflaged herself as, in order to stay a few steps ahead of the law, as well as the less-than-savory people who had been hunting her for most of her life. And kept her under the thumb of Sherlock Holmes, who has never completely trusted her and has always been certain that she would return to her actually quite wicked – and thieving – ways the minute his back was turned.
But Mary misses Clarissa Hudson, no matter what name she lives under, so when the opportunity arises for her to take a leisurely trip from Venice to Monte Carlo, where Clarissa Hudson might possibly be residing, Mary can’t resist. Only to discover that Mrs.Hudson’s nefarious past seems to have caught up with her, not just in the person of the “Jersey Lily”, but in the matter of the dead man discovered lying at her feet.
Escape Rating A: I have been following the adventures of Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes from the very beginning of this series, back in 1994 with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The premise was initially a bit hard to swallow – retired Sherlock Holmes takes on 15-year-old apprentice and eventually marries her – but the story and the series went down surprisingly smoothly and I’ve never regretted listening to that first story.
However, after 25 years of eagerly awaiting every story, it’s impossible for me to say that any books in the series stand completely alone, and equally difficult for me to tell a newbie where to begin. They’re awesome. Just dive in.
Mary Russell is one of a number of young female sleuths, whether amateur or professional, who came of age during or just after World War I. It’s a stellar list that includes not just Phryne Fisher, but also Maisie Dobbs, Bess Crawford, Elena Standish and Jane Wunderly. But Mary is special, not just because her story began before any of the others, but because of the inclusion of her husband and partner Sherlock Holmes and all of the canon that he drags in with him. It feels like their story has just a bit more depth, and his reputation – or his brother Mycroft’s – gives them entree into places that the others can’t quite manage on their own.
Like many stories in the series, this is one where the focus is primarily on Mary, while Holmes’ activities are in the background. She comes to find Clarissa Hudson, because the woman was such a huge part of her life and is now off on her own adventures. Mary wants to make sure Clarissa is alright – no matter how clear it is that the older woman is more than capable of managing on her own. Sherlock, on the other hand, wants to make sure that Clarissa is still on the straight-and-narrow.
Neither of them are prepared to discover that the woman is up to her neck in murder and smuggling. But their motives are different. Mary wants to save her. Sherlock wants to discover a truth that he has long feared. Their conflict is poignant, as Mary’s quest puts her in danger for a friend that Holmes isn’t sure is worth the sacrifice. That the danger is covered in molten bronze among stolen artifacts – along with international arms dealers and aristocratic Russian emigres – just adds to the fun and ratchets up the risk at every turn.
A big part of this particular story’s charm is the charm of Monte Carlo itself, not as the glittering confection we know it today, but rather as a slightly down-at-the-heel former hotspot looking for a comeback. It’s a place that was and will be, but isn’t right at that very moment. And it’s lovely and captivating and decadent in ways that are unexpected.
As has been this whole series so far. At the end of this story, there are hints that Holmes and Russell are off to Romania to look into a spot of vampire trouble. I can’t wait!
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