One of the things I like most about Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes' mysteries is their exotic locales. Of course the era the books in which they are set, the 1920s, is right up my alley, and the intellectually driven conversations and witty repartee between the pair is hugely amusing. And then these are true mysteries with a good puzzle at heart with both Mary and Holmes sharing in the unraveling of the cases.
Last time out Mary and Holmes were helping two friends in what was not exactly a mystery per se. It didn't didn't start out that way in any case, but eventually a murder was uncovered. It started out as a favor to convince the heir to Justice Hall that the place he belonged was not the family seat, rather dressed as an ill-tempered Bedouin in Palestine at the service of His Majesty. So that mystery actually hearkened back to yet another earlier mystery that saw Mary and Holmes being spirited into Palestine clandestinely. Yes, each new mystery does follow on the previous and builds the story and their history together just a little bit more.
In the seventh Mary Russell mystery set in 1924, The Game, some much earned rest is interrupted when Mycroft (he always gets them into some messy situation, usually something in the service of the Crown) convinces Holmes (who then convinces Mary) that they are needed in the far flung reaches of the Empire once again. This time they set off for India, but they get to enter by wholly legal and above board modes of travel. Once they are there, however, now that is another story entirely.
You're familiar with Kipling's creation, Kim? Yes, that famous Kim of the stories set in deepest darkest India. Mycroft hands over a stained document that appears to be a soldier's clearance certificate, one belonging to "K-something O'Meara, or O'Mara", an Irishman in the then-Her Majesty's service. Kimball is the name. O'Hara. When Mary asks if it all has anything to do with the Kipling book, Kim . . . indeed responds Holmes. He worked with him. Of course. It would seem that this Kimball was undertaking covert government work and engaging in the 'Great Game' of border espionage. He was always more native than white in his sensibilities, though never a turnkey. He did, however, drop out of the Great Game. And now he's gone missing and Mycroft is sending Holmes and Mary to go find him. Rather like searching for a needle in a haystack really.
Only Mycroft could manage to hold a British train for Mary and Holmes to catch it. Holmes very knowingly says of his brother, "the Empire is but a mere plaything to the whims of Mycroft Holmes." First a train and then a boat and then to India. Before they even manage to get there they are befriended by an exuberant American family (really it's mostly the daughter who is exuberant), and then they are almost killed. But it's when they arrive in India that the real fun begins. Why are Mycroft's invitations to do a bit of government work never easy? Once in India Holmes and Mary once again take to being native, Mary must dress as a boy once more and the pair travel as itinerant magicians across country.
They trek across country, performing as they go until it makes more sense for Mary to become once again a proper English lady when they cross paths again with the uncouth Americans while Holmes, along with their young helper Bindra (who seems to know much more than he is letting on) continue on on foot. Off to, or maybe I should say up to Simla Mary goes where the party is welcomed by the local prince, handsome, erudite, well-spoken, a hunter and every bit as cold blooded as any man wishing to shake off the royal crown from his country.
Why do the mysteries Mary and Holmes get involved in always turn out to be more than they bargained for? I won't give away too many details, but I will say that one thing I like so much about Mary is her ability to hold her own in almost any situation. Including if need be a hearty round of 'pig-sticking' (hunting wild boar that is), or, thanks to the prince's malicious intentions hunting more formidable foes in the form of human beings. There is a teaser for you!
This was yet another most satisfying installment in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery series. I never tire of their adventures. They are a nice mixture of mystery, adventure with a good intellectual bent and pitch perfect atmosphere. Always a good historical mystery and often with a good twist and to top it all off, Mary is one of my most favorite protagonists in all of literature. There is much to like about these books and I can't wait to dive into the next, Locked Rooms, which takes place in San Francisco and delves into Mary's upbringing (her father was American and her mother British and her early years were spent in California) and her experiences in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The book is sitting on the top of my reading pile!