Before I move on to the next adventure of Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes I should really catch up on where I have been and all the interesting escapades she has been involved in. Actually this last mystery, Locked Rooms, set in 1924 San Francisco, was tinged in sadness and goes a long way to sorting out some mysteries of Mary's past and laying to rest a few old ghosts and bad memories.
Previously, in The Game, she and Holmes had been in India helping Mycroft sort out the business of Kim, you know--Kipling's Kim and some confusion on where his loyalties lay and where exactly he had gone off to, or if he was even still alive. It had been quite a rigorous investigation there that included dressing as Bedouins (Mary's skills as a knife thrower came in quite handy), speaking Arabic (or in Mary's case refining her skills in the language), and having attempts made on both their lives not just once but several times. Unfortunately, maybe more to the disappointment of Holmes than Mary, Mary's fine tresses needed to be cut in order to pass off as a boy. It was all pretty messy, but exciting, too.
Anyway, there return journey was by way of Bombay with a stop in San Francisco. It was only meant to be a temporary stop in order to clear up some remaining financial business that Mary Had been putting off. Mary's father was American and her mother a British-born Jew, but they spent quite a lot of years in America. They were in San Francisco when the momentous earthquake of 1906 took place. Not long after a fatal car crash took the lives of not only both of Mary's parents but also her brother.
Sure that she was the cause of the accident--those twisty California roads are bad enough but two warring siblings in the back seat taking the attention of her father who was driving was disastrous. Mary is certain that had she not been behaving like a petulant child and arguing with her brother, her father never would have looked over his shoulder and lost control of the car. It was not long after her recovery that Mary ended up back in England with her mother's remaining family. A student with her nose in a book walking those Sussex Downs that she literally ran into Holmes and the rest, shall we say, is history.
As Mary is finally coming of age, duty calls to take care of her inheritance, which includes a house that has long been closed up. She plans on selling the estate, closing all her finances and investments and returning once and for all to England. They have not even docked yet in San Francisco before Mary's dreams intensify, becoming darker and more inexplicable, throwing her into a very un-Mary-like state of confusion. She is absolutely certain she was never in San Francisco during the infamous earthquake, yet Holmes knows (the signs/evidence are there that she was) that whatever is hidden deep in her subconscious is coming out in her dreams and causing her memory loss.
When Mary begins sorting out her estate she discovers that curiously her father had made an addendum to the will in which the house, if anything should happen to them, must be closed up--as is, and locked. No one, save one of the Russell's immediate family, is to be allowed on the premises. He even went so far as to pay someone to live across the way and ensure that no one was to enter the property. However, not once but several times it has been breached usually to be caught and turned away, but once it is a apparent that two people entered and spent some time looking for something in the house. Just what the object is and whether they found it is only one of the mysteries that surround Mary's family.
Mary is not much like the Mary we know and love. It's not just her appearance, shorn of tresses, that is so strange. She is not her usual self, barely conscious of the world around her, moving in an almost dream like state. If India wasn't bad enough, there is someone in San Francisco who seems bent on harming her, and Holmes begins to wonder if these murderous attempts are related, and if they have been followed and why. She meets up again with a childhood friend who is a drinks and party girl, a flapper, and it seems just the right distraction that Mary needs. Her bookishness disappears and she becomes more of a socialite that anyone might imagine. Holmes knows she is going through something related to what happened so many years ago and while keeping en eye on her from a distance, he begins his own investigation with the help of a local man, Dashiell Hammett. Yes, that Hammett!
Can you tell this is a rich and complex story? Mary Russell's mysteries are always multilayered and involved, but in good puzzling sorts of ways. The last few outings have been full of international flair as the pair go to far flung corners of the globe either on their own, at the behest of friends or clients and sometimes at the direction of Holmes's brother Mycroft, which means business with the Crown, and usually of a secretive nature. Lots gets sorted out in San Francisco and as usual it is a most satisfying story. If you know San Francisco (or can imagine it well) you'll get a good dose of those steep hills, twisty roads, and the scents and sounds of Chinatown. I call this another Thumping Good Read, and now that I have enjoyed a little reminiscence, I think I am ready to embark on the next order of business in The Language of Bees. Happily the haze that hung over Mary was gone by story's end and she and Holmes will be back on the Sussex coast. What new adventures lie ahead?