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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, January 12, 2004

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. ISBN: 0312146701

Calling all Sherlock Holmes fans! There is great cause for rejoicing! Mystery writer Laurie King has written a whole series of new adventures featuring the world’s most famous detective, but with a twist. The main character of these tales is one Mary Russell who first meets Holmes in 1915 at the tender age of 15 and becomes his protégé and apprentice. A Letter of Mary is the third of these remarkable stories, following A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995) and The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994). These are followed by The Moor (1998), O Jerusalem (1999), Justice Hall (2002) and the soon-to-be released The Game (forthcoming in March, 2004).

You should definitely read these in the order they were written, however, with the possible exception of O Jerusalem, (which I’ve already read), since it involves a backtrack to tell of an adventure Holmes and Russell had during an interregnum briefly referred to in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice when events in England forced the pair to go abroad for a time, for their own safety.

And you SHOULD definitely read these books. They are absolutely wonderful, true to the original Conan Doyle stories, even better, if that could be, in that they feature a compellingly narrated relationship between the sometimes misogynistic Holmes and a highly intelligent woman, who becomes a scholar in her own right, as the books continue.

The fact that I have only read four of these books so far, and that three more remain to be enjoyed and savored, makes me want to chortle with glee, rub my hands together in anticipation, and indulge in an orgy of reading. But no, another part of me insists that I parcel these out over the year, allowing myself to read one only every few months, so as to make the experience linger and last longer. Of course, if a true Sherlock Holmes fan is reading this blog entry, you’ve probably already read all of the Mary Russell stories, and are laughing at me for being so far behind the times!

And I haven't even mentioned the tantalizing premise of A Letter of Mary, which is the delivery to Mary Russell, now the Oxford scholar of Biblical languages, of a papyrus manuscript purporting to be a letter from THE Mary Magdalene, who describers herself as "apostle of Joshua [or Jesus], the 'Anointed One.'” It is unraveling a murder connected with this document that becomes the premise of the adventure.

I can’t resist mentioning one other delicious tidbit. In the course of her investigations, Mary Russell goes underground, accepting employment as a personal secretary under an assumed name. In this guise, at a society event (pp. 188-190), she runs into an acquaintance who (although only partially identified in the book’s pages) is unmistakably Peter Wimsey, the detective hero of mystery writer Dorothy Sayers, who placed him in this same post-WWI historical period. This wonderfully hilarious crossover was an added bonus, since probably the only detective I like better than Sherlock is Lord Peter.

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