I wonder if Laurie King has ever been approached by filmmakers who would be interested in adapting the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries she writes to the big (or even the little) screen? I know I would be happy to see the books made into a TV series. If done right, it could be visually stunning, witty and highly amusing (knowing how Mary and Russell work together) with good puzzles to solve. These are stories with substance, excellent characterization, good plotting, good historical detail without feeling artificial and are just generally fun and entertaining. Mary Russell is one of my favorite heroines/sleuths and she has a most agreeable relationship with Holmes. Theirs is a marriage of respect, one where each appreciates the others' intelligence yet has a sense of humor for the others' foibles as well.
O Jerusalem is the fifth in the series of Mary Russell mysteries, yet the action takes place in 1919 when Mary was still a young scholar, somewhere during the period of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, which is the inaugural volume describing Mary's adventures. Laurie King, lucky woman that she is, was sent a collection of manuscripts written by Mary and she has kindly been transcribing them into book format for her anxious readers to 'find out how it all ends'--though hopefully Mary has a nice, long career for her fans to follow. Laurie was finally able to prepare this publication thanks to a section of the manuscript finally surfacing--the parcel came all the way from Ljubljana where it was posted (surely there will be a story behind that postmark?!). Apparently it will also form a companion piece of sorts for a story to follow later, which shares a similar theme. Ah, such a teaser, you have piqued my curiosity, Laurie.
You know you are in the hands of a good editor when you see the trouble Laurie has taken to explain the historical background and prepared the reader with a list of Arabic terms in order to sort all the cultural bits out when reading and provided a map for the purpose of orientation and seeing how Mary and Holmes move across the country. I like a good intellectual puzzler that you can sink your teeth into.
Barely a week before the action that takes place in Palestine, Mary and Holmes had been "bombed, hunted down, chased through London, and finally shot at while standing in an office of New Scotland Yard." The pair had to be whisked away and Jerusalem is the destination thanks to Holmes's brother, Mycroft, and his rather covert dealings in the British government--whose fingers are 'far reaching'. Under cover of darkness the pair steal into the country not knowing exactly what their mission is to be. There have been a series of murders not connected to the ongoing political and social tensions always running in the background, but why and who is the perpetrator and what have the murders to do with their ultimate mission (if anything)?
Holmes and Mary, particularly Mary, are not entirely welcome guests. They are led across the desert by a pair of Bedouin brothers--the elder, scarred and obviously having gone through his own trials yet resigned to his duty and the younger, impatient and angry and only very begrudgingly giving Mary her due. You see Mary must dress as a young Arab boy to avoid detection. Not only must she dress out of character but she must learn as she goes. As a Talmudic scholar she is comfortable speaking other languages and can make do in Hebrew, but she must learn Arabic as she goes. But I have faith in Mary:
"Under the tutelage of Holmes and a number of others, over the last four years I had accumulated a variety of odd abilities. I could pick a lock laboriously, drive a motorcar without coming to grief, dress up in a costume as a sort of amateur-dramatics-in-earnest, and fling a fully grown man (an unprepared and untrained man) to the ground. My only two real gifts, gifts I was born with, were an ear for languages and a hand for throwing. Be it a rock or a pointed object, my left hand had a skill for accuracy that I could in all honesty take no credit for, although I had on occasion found it tremendously useful."
And indeed she will use all her extraordinary abilities to get out of more than one tight situation. This is British Mandate Palestine and British soldiers occupy the country led by Mary's own personal hero General Edmund Allenby. The four 'Bedouins' (well, two of whom are in disguise) take a circuitous and often dangerous route to Jerusalem which will end in a spectacular and nail-biting chase that, unless Mary and Holmes can get their first, may well result in more deaths and even devastation of the city.
I really enjoyed this, not only because I love the character of Mary, but I was especially interested in the portrayal of Mandate era Palestine, which I have a great interest in at the moment. This is a fun romp of a story, but don't be misled--romp it may be, it is a nicely complex story and a mystery that requires careful attention to detail. Laurie King washes the backdrop in glistening detail making the desert come alive--in all its vibrant color and dustiness, too. Very few fine frocks for Mary, and you can feel the grit and grime and sweat. But don't worry, she can take care of herself.
Next up is Justice Hall and I can't wait to get started!