In Laurie King's O Jerusalem Mary Russell narrates a story, a mystery, from her early days with Sherlock Holmes when she was still his apprentice. The year is 1919 and the place is Palestine and the pair have been secreted into the country on business for Holmes's brother Mycroft. There they join a pair of Bedouins on covert business. It is a messy, dusty and dangerous affair and not helped much by their guides who would prefer not to have this British pair as baggage. O Jerusalem is a backtrack in the series, the fifth book, a look back on a mystery long resolved. It makes sense that Mary's editor, Ms. King, would insert the book just there as the sixth installment, which takes place in 1923, in Mary's adventures involves the same Bedouin pair, who, as it turns out, are not Bedouins at all. Now there's a teaser for you.
I think Justice Hall might well be my favorite book so far in the series, though I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every book and Mary Russell easily rivals Maisie Dobbs as my most favorite sleuth. They are both very different characters yet both are smart, savvy, independent and likable women. I think Mary, however, has perhaps a slightly more wry sense of humor. I could picture myself bantering with her more easily than with Maisie.
There are some very interesting twists and turns in Justice Hall, which is the name of a family seat--a great estate and home to a Duke. The Duke happens to be one of the above mentioned Bedouins. You wouldn't have known it in the previous story, though there were a few hints dropped, that the pair were not born and bred in Palestine. So akin to the country and the way of life, they easily passed for Arabs. They exuded the culture--the dress, the language, the history and social mores of the place and time. They may not have been born there but they were at home there--more so than their native England. The pair are cousins Alistair (Ali) and Marsh/Maurice (Mahmoud) who have been called back to England to take their rightful place as heir (and spare, I suppose--though several spots down the line of succession) of Justice Hall after the death of the next in line to the dukedom.
Marsh's brother has recently died and so he feels a sense of responsibility to the family and the title. To see the men at home in England is like night and day. As Arabs they could be ill-tempered and unfriendly. Men you would not want to encounter in a dark alley at night and less would you want to cross either of them. They took on Holmes and Mary in Palestine only as necessity required but would give no more, but in the end they earned the respect and brotherly love (keeping in mind that Mary had been dressed as a young Arab boy!) of the two Bedouins. Ali has come now to Mary and Holmes in Sussex asking for their help in convincing Marsh to let Justice Hall take care of itself and return to the country he loves--Palestine.
This is a tricky case. On the surface it's not really a case at all, rather friends helping to convince a friend that duty is not everything. What's tricky is that there is indeed murder involved--a crime done so clandestinely, so insidious in its execution that it takes much peeling away of layers of secrets and lies (and lots of tedious footwork, too) to get at the heart of the matter. I really do like twisty turny mystery novels and Laurie King is quite adept at pulling them off, which is one of the things I like about these books. I like the characters who feel so flesh and blood, but I like the intellectual aspects (would I expect anything less of a Sherlock Holmes story--keeping in mind this is as much Mary Russell's novel--actually more Mary than Holmes really) of these books, the complexity of the storytelling and the mystery and the solving. Truly the books have it all, and this story in particular.
If it isn't enough that Marsh and Alistair lead double lives in a sense, Marsh in particular has a complicated history in England, a complicated personal life. I won't give it away, as the pleasure is in the revelations, but I can tell you that this mystery hearkens back to WWI, still fairly fresh in the minds of the characters, and will take Mary from Sussex to Justice Hall and as far away as Canada. And I loved every minute of it.
I have already pulled out the seventh installment, The Game, which will take Mary and Holmes all the way to India! I don't tend to read mysteries in one series back to back so I have been reading a Bess Crawford novel (and am quite enjoying it, too), but thinking about Justice Hall makes me eager to dive right in and not wait any longer. I think 2016 might see me reading my way through as many of the remaining books (nine more--one of which is forthcoming next year) as I can squeeze into twelve months.