The second novel in the Mary Russell series begins right as Mary is about to turn 21, reach her majority and have access to her inheritance which up until now has been in trust. While the first novel of the series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, didn't necessarily have a great mystery, I figured it was due to the fact that King was setting up a series and introducing the characters. However, the mystery in this novel is even weaker, and I couldn't get much a grasp on Mary as a character. She just seemed so all over the place. One minute she is spontaneously going to see Sherlock Holmes, then she is dressed in men's clothes to go to London, then she is going on huge shopping sprees with her newly received inheritance after barely showing an interest in clothes. She cites the fact that her allowance is so small as the reason that she doesn't have newer clothes before this, but given her freedom of movement and the fact that she can borrow money from Holmes when convenient, the lack of money doesn't quite ring true, even though she also mentioned it in the previous book when her actions seemed in accordance with it. And apparently some of her shopping is to portray herself in a certain way as part of her investigation but honestly, her actions were just too conflicting too me, or maybe I just didn't have a good enough sense of the geography of London and its surrounding areas.
While in London, Mary runs into a friend from college that is involved with the New Temple of God, a group of women that do community work to help impoverished women, and are under the leadership of Margery Childe, mystic and feminist. Mary, a theology student who has just completed her thesis, comes along out of curiosity. I understand that Mary is supposed to be skeptical but I did get rather annoyed with how much she seemed to doubt Childe's intentions, thinking she must have an ulterior motive of some sort or some plan to try to get more power. Can't the woman just want to help others and raise awareness? However, I think this may have been King showing how her character has been influenced by her past. And yes, later Mary discovers that it seems like a comparatively large amount of women from the congregation have died. I admit I also was very irritated with a line early on in the novel, which may have also made me a bit judgmental. When Mary first meets Margery, she mentions that Margery, a feminist, actually has a sense of humor, something that is generally lacking in feminists. This may have even been tongue in cheek, but after all the articles about how women can't be funny, and the stereotype of the humorless feminist, I was irritated. Why not just say, she has a sense of humor if you're trying to prove a point? As I said it may have been and probably was tongue in cheek but it didn't strike me that way (if it is about proving a point say something like "despite common belief," because as I said the lack of humor sounded like something the narrator believed, not something she was making joking about). Anyway, for the most part, I actually enjoyed the interactions with Margery, even some of the biblical discussions. Mary is shocked that Margery was able to come to certain conclusions without the scholarly training she had had, but also illustrates to Margery why it is important to not just come at it from a layman perspective since being able to read the original texts also assists in finding prejudices in the text based on the translation choices made.
Honestly, if this hadn't been a mystery novel, I would have mostly enjoyed the parts in the beginning, especially from a slightly different narrator (something about Mary was just off in this novel). Unfortunately it was a mystery, and not even an interesting one. It really doesn't even start to develop till more than halfway through, there are at that time only one or two possible suspects to be investigated which eventually lead to more. I'm also kind of irritated with the fact that in both novels in the series, Mary has to be nursed back to health after certain incidents. Seriously? Can we not victimize the heroine? I also wish the author hadn't felt the need to change the relationship between Holmes and Russell since much of the book also addresses Mary's confusion and avoidance of certain feelings. I actually picked up the third novel when I bought this since I thought I'd enjoy them, so I will see if the third improves. I'll still read it, but I'm not in a rush - this novel wasn't necessarily that bad, but it definitely wasn't as good as I hoped it could be, or even expected it to be.