Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. King

Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. KingCastle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17) by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17
Pages: 384
Published by Bantam on June 8, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat--all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.
The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter to Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania's young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country's long-lost provinces, single-handedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.
The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thanks from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.
The threat is...now, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may only be accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.
When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won't take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi?
Or, as they are known in the West...vampires.

My Review:

As this one opens, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes, are leaving the sunny Riviera, the scene of their previous adventure, Riviera Gold, for the chillier and considerably more forbidding Carpathian Mountains. For the very scene of Count Dracula’s fictional adventures.

But Castle Bran, unlike the fictional residence of Dracula that was based on it, is the real life retreat of Queen Marie of Roumania.

There is a bit of Dorothy Parker doggerel that I memorized a long time ago, that goes:

“Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea.
Love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.”

I had no idea that Marie of Roumania was a real person. I thought it was something Parker made up in order to make the thing rhyme and scan correctly. Color me chagrined.

Holmes is on his way to Castle Bran and the town of Bran that it overlooks at the behest of Queen Marie herself. Someone is threatening the Queen’s young daughter, Princess Ireana and Her Majesty wants Holmes to find the culprit and stop them. That Holmes is also in the area at the suggestion, at least, of his brother Mycroft turns out to be a source of irritation for both Holmes and Russell.

Mycroft, the eminence grise of the British government, has a habit of commanding and commandeering the services of his brother for political purposes and occasionally downright espionage, in ways that give Russell serious qualms.

Qualms that are quite serious, a situation that has been developing since Russell learned the full scope of Mycroft’s government remit during The God of the Hive. Qualms that are compelling Holmes to, effectively, pick a side. He can either continue to serve his brother whenever and wherever called upon, at a moment’s notice for purposes that he may or may not strictly agree with and may or may not be for the so-called “greater good” – or he can remain married and in full partnership with his wife Mary Russell.

Because Mary requires honesty and Mycroft requires secrecy, and those requirements cannot both be met. (The fallout, when it finally comes in a later book in the series, is going to be EPIC.)

But at the moment, Holmes and Russell have a case. A case that has entirely too many shades of The Sussex Vampire, while potentially covered in all the blood that the infamous Roumanian countess Erzsebet (AKA Elizabeth) Bathory, ever bathed in.

There’s someone running around Bran and its neighboring villages trying to convince the locals that Queen Marie is as evil as Bathory and Dracula combined, and that no one in Bran will be safe until she’s been evicted from her castle.

Or, until Russell and Holmes figure out who is really behind this local reign of attempted terror.

Escape Rating A-: Castle Shade was good fun. Not quite as much good fun as Riviera Gold, but still absolutely worth the read for anyone who has followed the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Speaking of which, while I don’t think you have to have read Mary Russell’s entire opus to get into Castle Shade, you do have to have read some, if only to make sure you can get past the astonishing premise, that when Holmes retired to Sussex to keep bees he took on a 15-year-old apprentice who later – after she attained her majority – became both his investigative partner and his spouse.

But the case, with its echoes of Holmes’ earlier investigation, The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, is, in its way, a kind of a callback to Holmes’ earlier adventures.

In spite of the potential political overtones, the brush with real-life royalty and the unresolved issue of Brother Mycroft, among other things, the case that the Queen has asked Holmes to investigate and that Holmes has, in turn, requested Russell’s assistance with, winds its way around and about until it resolves into something classic.

When Holmes rules out any political motivations, the heart of the mystery turns into one of the basic questions in mystery. “Qui bono?” or more familiarly, “Who benefits?”

Because it’s all about Queen Marie and her ownership of Bran Castle. The whole point of the strange happenings and rumor mongering and attempts at raising unbridled hysteria among the local population are all aimed at Queen Marie.

Someone wants her out of Castle Bran. Someone believes they benefit from driving Marie out of her castle. It’s up to Holmes and Russell to see through all the misdirection swirling around them, find a way clear of all the many and various secrets that the locals are obviously keeping that may or may not have anything to do with what’s really going on, to determine exactly who it is who is up to no good.

And stop them.

One of the other lovely things about this particular entry in the series is that, unlike Riviera Gold and other recent stories, the focus is equally split between Holmes and Russell. They have equal but separate parts to play in this mystery and I’m happy to see that, at the moment of this story at least, their partnership is still working for both of them.

While this mystery comes to a satisfactory conclusion, it is equally clear that the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes still have many more stories yet to tell. And I’m looking forward to each and every one.

Review: Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King

Review: Riviera Gold by Laurie R. KingRiviera Gold (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, #16) by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
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
Pages: 336
Published by Bantam on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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…

My Review:

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!

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea SinclairFinders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 453
Published by Bantam on April 26, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Be careful what you wish for. You might get it... Her ship's in shambles, her boyfriend's dumped her and she's frankly out of funds. Captain Trilby Elliot hopes her luck has changed when a high-tech fightercraft crash lands at her repair site. Finders keepers. She can sell the ship as salvage, pocket the profits. Except for one small problem: the pilot, Rhis, is still alive and intent on commandeering her ship. And another much larger problem: someone very powerful and very important wants Trilby Elliot dead.

I love the used bookstore, because of the serendipity of things; you never know what you’ll bump into! Quite a few of the reviews I’ve done here at Reading Reality have been things I found in the bargain bin at my used bookstore. I found this one, got hooked on the first page, and casually mentioned it to Marlene–turns out, she’s a fan of both sci-fi romances, and this author, but hasn’t ever reviewed any of her work here.

For shame! “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Guest Review by Amy:

Trilby Elliot isn’t just any tramp-freighter captain plying the space lanes, trying to make a living, no. She does it all alone, except for her trusty ‘droid Dezi, in a clapped-out old ship that has seen better days. So, not a wimp, this lady fair. We find her holed up on some back-end-of-nowhere planet, hacking on repairs, and hoping to get home in time for her next cargo job, when she sees another spacecraft crashing.

She goes to check, thinking there might be salvage, and she finds…him. Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, in the flesh. He’s injured from the crash, but Trilby and Dezi drag him back to the ship and get him in the med-bay to heal.  When he wakes, we find out he’s a lieutenant in the Zafharin military. He’s on the wrong side of dividing lines between three different sorts of civilization, in a ship belonging to the most non-human (and inhumane) of the three, and she just wants to get back to work.

Escape Rating: A+. Marlene warned me, she truly did. Linnea Sinclair is an awesome storyteller. The universe she constructed for this tale is rich in detail, but the details are close enough to our own sense of normalcy that we can grasp what’s going on, and not have to have things explained at great length. It’s a comfortable universe for a sci-fi fan to land in, even for all its violence and tension.

This is really my first foray into the sci-fi romance genre; I’m a fan of both sci-fi and romance, but this is new turf for me, and now I’m hooked. Unlike a lot of romances I read, this isn’t as trope-laden and obvious as a Harlequin, and there’s action and intrigue enough to keep sci-fi fans reading right along. Our heroine is a bit of a badass, with a softer side that she doesn’t let out much. But the handsome Rhis cracks her armor enough for them to fall for each other. He is, of course, Not Who He Appears to Be (we can’t totally escape the tropes, now, can we?), and when Trilby finds out, she’s furious, because the person he is reported to be is…infamous! A monster! Scourge of Space! But underneath the tough guy is a very real man, with very real feelings, and those closest to him know it, and push him back toward the woman he loves.

For quite a bit of this book, we’re not entirely sure who the antagonists are. There are two human-ish civilizations, the Zafharin and the Conclave, plus the ‘Sko, decidedly non-human. All three groups have been at cross purposes for years, and there is, of course, intrigue at the highest levels of Trilby’s tribe, the Conclave.  Over time, as I mentally shadow-boxed these characters looking for the villains, I got to the point that I was finding villainy even in our protagonists’ closest friends…could it be that even those closest to Trilby and Rhis are part of this vast conspiracy?

Once the bad guys were revealed, we have two people in love, who are also in a bit of a rough spot together, and the ending, while quick and to-the-point, gave me a happy smile.

Marlene’s Note: For anyone – including Amy – looking for more great science fiction romance, be sure to check out the SFR Galaxy Awards. While the 2018 Awards won’t be posted until January 31, there are PLENTY of great SFR stories among the previous years’ award winners!

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #15
Pages: 306
Published by Bantam on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today."

A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no.

The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet he seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps?

The trail leads Russell and Holmes through Bedlam's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas...

My Review:

I have followed Mary Russell’s adventures from her very first outing in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, almost 25 years ago. And how that time has flown!

The story we have in Island of the Mad reminds me of the best of the Russell/Holmes kanon (yes, that spelling is deliberate) combining the farcical aspects of the case in Pirate King with the more serious undertones, as well as a few of the characters, from the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. And the result is glorious – as well as a bit star-studded.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Lido”, which seems to be a deck on every cruise ship as well as appearing in multiple songs and all sorts of other places, our journey also takes us to what feels like the original of the name, the Lido di Venezia in the beautiful La Serenissima – Venice.

The case before our intrepid heroine is to determine whether her best friend’s aunt disappeared of her own free will, was the victim of some foul deeds, or succumbed to the madness that has plagued her for the past dozen years or so.

Or perhaps all of the above.

When Mary’s search for Vivian Beaconsfield leads her from Bedlam to Venice, a separate case miraculously (or perhaps nefariously) appears before her husband Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft desperately wants his brother to poke his inquisitive nose into the rise of the Fascisti in Italy. While too many people in England think that a strong man like Il Duce Mussolini is just what Italy needs, Mycroft is certain that there is something sinister about the rise of the fascists in Italy, Germany and possibly even Britain.

History proved he was right, but in 1925 all that Mycroft had was his finely honed intuition. He can’t send an agent because even he can’t describe what an agent should be looking for. But if there is something to find, Mycroft is certain that Sherlock will find it. Or that it will find him, whether he wants it to or not.

While their separate missions lead them to the same city, the things that need investigation pull them in entirely different directions. While Mary hunts for evidence of Vivian’s presence among the more outre denizens of Venice’s celebrating ex-pat nightlife, Sherlock inveigles himself into the household of American composer Cole Porter, where anyone who is anyone in the city is entertained in lavish style while the rich Americans drop millions of lira into the local economy.

When their respective cases dovetail into one another, the conclusion of both trails ends in a bang, a whimper, and an explosion of sound and light. Lots and lots of bright, white, revealing light. Flashbulbs!

Escape Rating A: As much as I love this entire series, naturally some of the stories work better than others. Island of the Mad worked really, really well, because it went back to the elements that make this series so special.

The premise of this series, established all the way back in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was that after Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs at the end of his adventures, he literally stumbled over a 15-year-old girl – or rather she stumbled over him while her nose was buried in a book. After that fortuitous meeting, he took her on as an apprentice, and in the course of her apprenticeship, they eventually, after the events in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, married.

If you can swallow that premise, and admittedly some people can’t, the entire series is marvelous from beginning to the present. I don’t say beginning to end, because I sincerely hope the end never comes. If you can swallow the premise and have not read the rest of the series, well, you could start with this one. It does stand a fair bit on its own. But it would lose some of its resonance. If you are interested, but just not up to plowing through all 14 previous books in one go, read at least the first two so that you know how these two fit together into their singular relationship.

The series began in 1915, and this story takes place in 1925. Holmes and Russell have been married for several years, and are quite happily married. Also, it is a real marriage and not in any way a marriage of convenience – as many of their acquaintances occasionally assume. Their marriage is a true partnership, and much of the fun of the series is watching them work together, even if, as happens here, they are sometimes apart in their togetherness.

The stories are always told from Russell’s perspective, with her parts being in the first person, and Holmes’ separate investigations in the third person. We operate from inside her head, but with extremely rare exceptions, never inside his. Holmes is as inscrutable as ever, including at times to his wife.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between having Russell operate on her own and making sure that Holmes participates enough to keep things interesting for both them and the reader. The books do not always strike that balance well, but this particular outing does. They have separate tasks to perform and separate ways to go about them, but they check in with each other on enough of a regular basis for the reader to feel invested in both cases, and for the dovetailing at the end to work well.

One of the things that makes this series different from other Holmes pastiches and continuations is not just Russell’s voice but the way that she takes Holmes’ training and moves it into a new century with the different sensibilities of both her generation and her gender.

There are two dark themes underlying the froth in this particular outing. One is, of course, the rise of fascism in between-the-wars Europe and just how quickly and easily the fascists have taken over Italy. That is a darkness and a threat that Holmes would both recognize and fight against whether Russell was present or not. And any resonance between the situation they investigate and current xenophobic and tyrannical regimes rising today is probably intentional.

But just as the way that the fascists have come to power leads the reader to compare that situation to the present, so does the initial case that takes Russell to Venice in the first place. Her best friend’s aunt has been committed to Bedlam, the psychiatric asylum in London, for years. She has escaped. As Russell investigates, it turns out that the question isn’t why she escaped, but why she was committed in the first place. And if you don’t see the #MeToo movement peeking out from behind the historical curtain, you’re not looking.

There’s a lot of substance under the froth of the “Young Things” partying between the wars and the glitter of the ex-pat night life – if you want to look for it. But even if you don’t, it’s a fascinating story from the very first page.

I look forward, as always, to Mary Russell’s next investigation.

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. King

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. KingLockdown: A Novel of Suspense by Laurie R. King
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
Published by Bantam on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A classroom is held hostage by someone with a thirst for revenge in this stunningly intricate, ripped-from-the-headlines novel of rich psychological suspense from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell mysteries.
Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School: a day given to innocent hopes and youthful dreams. A day no one in attendance will ever forget.
New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King is an award-winning master of combining rich atmospheric detail with riveting, keen-edged mystery. Now, in her newest standalone novel of psychological suspense, King turns her sharp eye to a moment torn from the headlines and a school under threat. A year ago, Principal Linda McDonald arrived at Guadalupe determined to overturn the school's reputation for truancy, gang violence, and neglect. One of her initiatives is Career Day--bringing together children, teachers, and community presenters in a celebration of the future. But there are some in attendance who reject McDonald's bright vision.
A principal with a secret. A husband with a murky past. A cop with too many questions. A kid under pressure to prove himself. A girl struggling to escape a mother's history. A young basketball player with an affection for guns.
Even the school janitor has a story he dare not reveal.
But no one at the gathering anticipates the shocking turn of events that will transform a day of possibilities into an expolsive confrontation.
Tense, poignant, and brilliantly paced, Laurie R. King's novel charts compelling characters on a collision course--a chain of interactions that locks together hidden lives, troubling secrets, and the bravest impulses of the human heart.

My Review:

Lockdown was a surprise. In the end, it was nothing like I expected. Also, in the end, absolutely fascinating. Just not in the way that I expected at the beginning.

I was not expecting Holmes and Russell. Not that I wouldn’t love another entry in that series, but I knew this wasn’t it.

Instead, Lockdown is a story that starts out slowly and picks up steam, much as Guadalupe Middle School Principal Linda McDonald starts her day out early but slowly and ends with an exhausted rush at the end of this long and very surprising day.

It’s Career Day at Guadalupe, and Linda expects something to go wrong. Because, well, middle school. Take a whole herd of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, all rushing headlong into puberty at varying rates, mix well and throw them all together into a single steaming pot. It’s a guaranteed recipe for trouble at the best of times and in the best of places. The San Felipe neighborhood that Guadalupe serves is neither. And the varying differences of circumstances and misery that surround the students reflects both on their hyper-hormonal age group and the mostly working class racial melting pot neighborhood that surrounds them.

And in the middle of it all are two long-simmering tragedies. At the beginning of the school year, sixth grader Bee Cuomo went missing, and has neither been found, seen or heard from in the months since. And last year gang-leader Taco Alvarez murdered Gloria Rivas in cold blood, witnessed by two of Guadalupe’s students – Gloria’s sister Sofia and her friend Danny Escobedo. As the school prepares for Career Day, Taco’s trial is also proceeding, while his young cousin, still a Guadalupe student, tries to figure out what he owes to a cousin he both fears and worships.

But as the day moves forward and winds up to its explosive conclusion, the story peeks into the lives of every standout character in the school. That exploration begins with the Principal and her husband, from their surprising meeting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to his rather murky past as a gun-for-hire. But everyone involved has secrets of their own, from the janitor who keeps the school running in some mysterious ways to the Coach who tries his best to save young boys before their eyes go completely dead to the students themselves.

They say that all happy families are alike, but that unhappy families are each unhappy in their own ways. And we see that here as their worlds collide with explosive violence, and it all goes wrong. But some things, after all, go right.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I wasn’t sure where this story was going. Based on the blurbs, it was pretty obvious that it was going to end in a school shooting, but I’ll admit to being completely misled about the shooter and their motivation until the very end.

And it does go slowly at first. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of tiny, individual portraits to sort through. At the beginning it felt as if the only characters we lingered on long enough to get a clear picture were Linda McDonald and her very mysterious husband Gordon Kendrick. Through Linda’s memories, we see their first meeting, and it’s obvious from the very beginning that Gordon has a very big secret that is finally catching up with him. It takes a while before that secret finally bites him in the ass, and the way that it happens just adds to the drama.

There are a lot of threads to this story. As the focus shifts from person to person, we see the way the wind blows. But there is more than enough misdirection for the reader to think that the explosion is coming from a completely different direction than it actually is.

The school is faced with so many crises, and both the students and their guardians have so many violent secrets. It’s not surprising that something erupts, only the how and the when are mysterious. Even the why becomes a bit obvious early on, or at least the reader thinks it does.

I went down the wrong path for a long time, and at the end was forced to back up and see where I missed the fork in the road. The misdirection was very well done.

While in her Career Day speech McDonald focuses on all the threads that make up the school and its community, the story is about all the threads that make up the tragedy and its aftermath. Once Linda’s day, and the story, get going, it’s impossible to stop until the end.

So I didn’t.

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King + Giveaway

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King + GiveawayThe Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell, #14) by Laurie R. King
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #14
Pages: 384
Published by Bantam on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Laurie R. King’s bestselling Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes series weaves rich historical detail and provocative themes with intriguing characters and enthralling suspense. Russell and Holmes have become one of modern literature’s most beloved teams. But does this adventure end it all?

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond.

And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson.

Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

The key to Russell’s sacrifice lies in Mrs. Hudson’s past. To uncover the truth, a frantic Sherlock Holmes must put aside his anguish and push deep into his housekeeper’s secrets—to a time before her disguise was assumed, before her crimes were buried away.

There is death here, and murder, and trust betrayed.

And nothing will ever be the same.

My Review:

This book felt like two stories for the price of one. With part of a third thrown in for added body and spice.

The first 55% of this book details the life of times of Mrs. Hudson before she became Mrs. Hudson. In the Holmes’ Canon, Mrs. Hudson springs fully-formed, as if from the Head of Zeus. Or Arthur Conan Doyle. In the first half of The Murder of Mary Russell, we finally get to know who she was before she became Holmes’ and Watson’s mostly unflappable landlady – and what a story it is.

As Mary finally discovers, the woman that Clara Hudson really is, well, is a much different person than the one that Mary has loved and taken for granted these last ten years. We never see our parental figures as they see themselves, but Mrs. Hudson’s revelations are much more of a surprise than the usual. Then again, little turns out to be usual in Sherlock Holmes’ and Mary Russell’s world.

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", which appeared in The Strand Magazine in April, 1893. Original caption was "'HUDSON IT IS, SIR,' SAID THE SEAMAN."
Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”, which appeared in The Strand Magazine in April, 1893. Original caption was “‘HUDSON IT IS, SIR,’ SAID THE SEAMAN.”

But as we read about Clara’s early life, and as Mary eventually discovers, beneath the plaster saint that Mary has somewhat assumed Mrs. Hudson to be, there beats the heart of an adventuress.

In addition to the story of Mrs. Hudson’s early life, and the true tale of how she first met the young Sherlock Holmes, we also dive back into Holmes’ first case, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott. A whole lot of people get much-needed closure in this old case of bank fraud, mutiny and murder on the high seas, and blackmail.

But the resolution of that old case is part of the second half of the story, as Mrs. Hudson’s former life comes crashing into her current life, with nearly devastating results for everyone involved. When the smoke clears, a life is over.

Escape Rating A-: The Murder of Mary Russell, in spite of its alarming title, does not appear to be the end of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. But it certainly closes a chapter.

beekeepers apprentice by laurie r king new coverIt is also not the best place to start the series. If you have not had the pleasure, I enthusiastically recommend starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, where Sherlock Holmes meets a 15-year old orphan on the Sussex Downs, and first mistakes her for a boy. And second takes her as his apprentice.

But The Murder of Mary Russell does reach back into the past, and a past long before Mary herself comes into the picture. The story of Mrs. Hudson’s early life, while incredibly illuminating as regards a central figure in both the original stories and the Russell Kanon, just doesn’t have the same flair as is usual for this series. The complete and often sad story is necessary for the rest of the book, but it just doesn’t “sing”, or maybe that’s “zing” the way that Russell and Holmes usually do when they are together. When a very young Sherlock Holmes enters the story, just past the halfway point, the book suddenly picks up the dramatic pace, much as Holmes runs non-stop when he’s on the scent.

In other words, the first half of the story was interesting but a bit slow. The second half ran away with me, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished. Once all the players are finally together, the game is not merely afoot, but seems to sprint towards its climactic finish. The story, and the life and times of Mrs. Clara Hudson, wrap themselves up with both a literal and figurative “bang”.

For those who have followed this series from its beginnings, the end of this book, and the end of this chapter in all of their lives, is surprising and satisfying and sets the stage gloriously for more adventures yet to come.

I can hardly wait.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

This is my birthday book. As in, when I saw the release date, I just about squeed in delight, because I have been waiting for this next book in the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series since the minute I finished the previous book, Dreaming Spies, last year. Because my birthday just happens to fall on a Tuesday, The Murder of Mary Russell is being released on my birthday. And what a marvelous present it turned out to be!

As part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, the publisher agreed to let me give away a copy of The Murder of Mary Russell to one lucky U.S. commenter. I love this series and hope that you do, or will, too!

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