So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Letter of Mary. Laurie R. King

Laurie King's A Letter of Mary is the third volume in a series of mystery novels that portray an older Sherlock Holmes who is still solving mysteries with his young bride Mary Russell Holmes. The time is 1923, and the couple lives in their country home in Sussex Downs. Mary is studying Theology at Oxford and busily involved in her research.

The couple is visited by Miss Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archaeologist from Palestine, who has returned to England to seek funding for her work. During the visit she leaves with Russell an antique papyrus letter that appears to be written by Mary Magdalene, an apostle of Jesus. It was given to Ruskin by a Palestinian who claims the document has been in his family for ages. Soon after she leaves, she is hit by a car in London and dies. Holmes and Russell are drawn into what appears to be a murder, but have a devil of a time figuring out who did it.

What I like about this novel is the way that King creates the atmosphere of 1920's England. The old cars and trains, the buildings, the pace of life, and the people are all described in great detail. There is a lovely scene that is just filled with details about dress and manners at a party on an old estate where Mary meets and gets help from Lord Peter Whimsey, the fictional detective. Another wonderful description is of a woman witness's hair style as Mary interviews her.

However, it is a difficult stretch for me to envision Holmes falling in love with any woman, never mind a young orphan whose parents were killed in an auto accident. And although I feel that King develops and portrays a good partnership between Russell and Holmes (they call each other by their last names!), with each bringing their own strengths to their work together, I find it not believable when they close the door and are intimate together.

Also, the plot is a murder mystery but the book resembles real life more than fiction. There are lots of suspects, and trails that go cold or lead nowhere. I can't fault the author for this bit of realism, but it is an interesting approach to the mystery novel.

Overall, I liked the novel and plan to read the rest of the series. The friendship, based on mutual respect between Russell and Holmes, makes this a wonderful book, not so much as a mystery, but as a model of healthy male-female relationships.


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