RogerBW's Blog

Garment of Shadows, Laurie R. King 27 July 2015

2012 mystery, twelfth in King's series about Mary Russell, wife of Sherlock Holmes. In Morocco in 1924, rebellion is in the air, and fell plots with international ramifications are being prepared.

Well, yes, and that's the core problem here. Holmes and Russell are playing for high stakes, and the story is basically one of espionage and covert operations; there's a certain amount of mystery in terms of working out who is the inevitable traitor, but for the most part this is a spy tale rather than a detective one. I wouldn't have minded a boring old-fashioned murder mystery, of the sort this series hasn't featured for a while.

Oh, and there's amnesia, which means we start with Russell having no idea who she is; that's not really dealt with until a third of the way through, and not fully resolved until the two-thirds mark, which while it gives an excuse for reiterating just who these people are for the benefit of the new reader doesn't offer much in terms of characterisation to the fan of the ongoing series. (Do people really pick up a series like this at book twelve?)

It's not a bad spy story, mind, carefully embedded in the Rif uprising, a time and place about which I know essentially nothing. The research and revelation never feel forced; it's a terrible temptation to show how much work one has done on something like this by including every little detail, but that's confined to an author's afterword which recounts what happened to the historical characters after the end of this story. On the other hand, there's perhaps more info-dumping during the tale than one would really like; it's all justified, delivered to people who have no reason to know what's going on, but it does rather drag down the pace.

Unfortunately Holmes and Russell are forced rather out of centrality by all that historical context, and by the appearance of two characters from earlier in the series who are rather more deeply embedded in it. That detracts from the story's emotional impact, and leaves physical peril as the main challenge to the principals, which is unfortunate.

All that said, this is much closer to the usual style of the series than was Pirate King, and I suspect fans who were disappointed by that one will like this rather better. Personally I preferred Pirate King, but I like the earlier books even better. Followed by Dreaming Spies.

(In some editions this book is bound with the short story Beekeeping for Beginners, which recounts some of the events of the first book in the series from Holmes' perspective. It's pleasant enough, but essentially very slight and not worth seeking out.)

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:22pm on 30 July 2015

    These books are to be classed as a guilty pleasure. That I can read them at all puts my literary taste in doubt. They feature so much wish fulfillment fantasy and fan service as to make them even more cloying than the IN DEATH sequence can be.

    But unfortunately the author has gifts of storytelling and characterisation which compensate for the over romanticised, mystically inclined and sometimes obvious story lines.

    A general curse upon your head for pointing me at them, Roger! I had enough things to waste my time and money on already!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:25pm on 30 July 2015

    Heh.

    At least the fan service is right there in the premise, so you know what you're getting into.

    I've read a couple of King's non-Russell books and found them much more grim and depressing.

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