So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Laurie R. King

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is the second novel in a series that features the female detective Mary Russell. In this volume Russell, who is an Oxford theology scholar, meets Margery Childe, a natural religious mystic, who is the charismatic leader of the Temple of God in 1921 London. Drawn together by their feminist leanings, and attracted to each other by their different approaches to the spiritual, these two women become close. Yet Mary becomes even more involved when rich women start dying in suspicious ways, and their wills show they are leaving large sums to the Temple.

Mary has been a close friend to the retired Sherlock Holmes. Their meeting and early years together are described in the first volume of the series: The Beekeeper's Apprentice. He has been teaching her his skills as a detective. The Temple deaths become her first case.

There is a subplot of romance as Mary and the elderly Holmes develop a sexual attraction towards each other. How they deal with it, and how it transforms their professional and personal relationship is quite interesting.

I have been a fan of another set of feminist mystery novels that features a female detective working with Sherlock Holmes, the Irene Adler series by Carol Nelson Douglas. Both series feature a feminist and assertively brilliant American woman with a strong personal career. While Mary Russell is a biblical scholar, Irene Adler is an opera singer. While Laurie King pits a teenage girl against a retired older Holmes, Douglas lifts right out of A Scandal in Bohemia a woman of his own age that Holmes was attracted to, and weaves her novels around the existing Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Where Mary Russell is serious and Tom-boyish, Irene Adler is flamboyantly female. Yet both feel comfortable donning a male disguise in their work. Laurie King roots her novels in Mary's theological research which leaves little room for light humor. Douglas's series is much lighter with a minister's daughter playing it straight to Adler's theatrics. Mary Russell's close relationship with Holmes allows a lot more character development than does the more distant relationship between Douglas's married Adler and Holmes. Yet both series are delightful reads in their own ways.

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