Friday, March 01, 2013

Book 27: A Letter of Mary

While I was incredibly disappointed with the second Mary Russell novel, I had already purchased the third one in the series.  I decided to revisit the series this past week, and I have to say I liked the third installment much more.  While I felt like the last novel took too much time to get to the actual mystery portion, which then ended up being rather weak, this novel started the case almost right away.  A few days after a friend visits Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes, Holmes notices a piece in the paper requesting assistance identifying the victim of a hit and run.  Her description matches their friend's appearance, and the couple is quickly enroute to London to identify the body, and determine whether this truly was an accident.  Of course, all the signs point to foul play, and the rest of the novel involves Russell and Holmes trying to track the killer, determine who had the motive, the means and the opportunity.
There were a few other things that I found much improved in this novel from the previous two: Russell didn't get hurt during the investigation.  In the first novel, she ends up hurt while protecting someone, in the second she gets turned into a damsel in distress and has a long recovery period, so I was very happy when the narrator of the story didn't end up in a tight spot or a hospital in this one.  King also didn't bring up Russell's age until over halfway through so it was easy to ignore the fact that Russell is only 23 years old to Holmes mid-50s, and their relationship is described in very set and comfortable ways.  I found the weird sexual tension/relationship between Holmes and Russell distracting in the last one, while here they seemed more like friends or partners that happened to be married.  Still, there is something about this novel that was just slightly off to me, and I think it is related to Russell.  I don't dislike her as a character but I don't love her.  While I don't expect her to solve the case when Sherlock Holmes is there, the author intended her to be an equal.  While she is smart, there were a few times where she just seemed a bit slower about things than she should have been, and was made more fragile than I wanted, such as her near fainting spell at the morgue.  Maybe it's more accurate for the time period, but I could pass on some of these types of things in the character (the narrator states she has an issue with car accidents due to a past incident but I still could have done without the near passing out followed by her taking a long nap from exhaustion), especially since the novels otherwise emphasize her intelligence, resilience and uniqueness.
Before her death, their friend Dorothy Ruskin had given Mary a box containing an old letter, possibly written by Mary Magdalene and addressed to her sister right before the fall of Jersualem.  Two experts had dismissed the letter, and while Ruskin knew she would get nowhere with it, she still believed it was authentic, hence her gift to Mary.  As the pair of detectives pursue the case, the question becomes Dorothy was killed because of her work and the uproar this letter could cause to the Christian community (Mary as one of the apostles), her involvement with the Zionist movement or more personal reasons.  The novel involves various disguises and undercover missions to find the truth as well as various chats with Mycroft.  The story was relatively straightforward but it was a fun romp, and the setting in the past certainly helped matters.  I'd have to get further into the series to determine if I'd actually recommend it, but now that I'm three novels in, I'll probably continue onward.

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