Review: Pirate King

Pirate King

Pirate King
Laurie R. King

Description (from
In this latest adventure featuring the intrepid Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King takes readers into the frenetic world of silent films—where the pirates are real and the shooting isn’t all done with cameras.

In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.

Pirate King is a Laurie King treasure chest—thrilling, intelligent, romantic, a swiftly unreeling masterpiece of suspense.

I’ve been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Holmes and Russell series since it began, so you know I was eagerly awaiting Pirate King. I bought when it came out, but saved it to savor in October, because mysteries are better when the weather begins to turn cool.

I’m also a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and it’s cheesy musical social satire, so the fact that Ms. King combined the two in this latest novel (which, admittedly, has much more Russell than Holmes in the first half of the story) made me deliriously happy.

I loved seeing Pirates through Mary Russell’s turn-of-the-century feminist eyes. I loved the way King had a movie about a movie about a play as the center of the novel – a preposterous situation – without it seeming preposterous. I even loved that much of the action took place in Morocco, a place that keeps haunting me in the books I read, and a place I’ve always wanted to visit.

Is there anything I didn’t love? I (still) wish we got to see more of Holmes and Russell having down time, to see the reality of their relationship. I felt there wasn’t quite enough Holmes in this entry into the series, and that when he does show up it’s a little anti-climactic.

Overall, however, I’m still a fan, although I was reading this during the same period of time that I was doing my annual re-watching of The West Wing, and I think Aaron Sorkin’s love of Gilbert and Sullivan might have colored my response to this novel, just a bit.

Pirate King
Laurie R. King
Bantam, September, 2011
320 pages
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Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

Mini-Review: Lassiter

Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

Paul Levine

This is a mini-review, because the real one will be over at All Things Girl later this month, but I just finished reading Lassiter, which is one of my entries for RIP. It’s a little more violent than I usually like in a mystery, but really a compelling read, an old-school detective novel, in a decidedly modern setting.

I’ve got to go back and read all the first books in this series…because Lassiter (the character) is awesome.


Paul Levine
Bantam, September 2011
304 pages
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The Sunday Salon: Monster Mash?

Illustration from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

When we think of monsters – not monstrous people or monstrous acts – but Hollywood-style monsters, two of the first that come to mine have to be Frankenstein and Dracula.

Two years ago, as part of an English/Literature tutorial for a friend’s son, we studied Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and noted the differences in the way the character was written and the way he’s appeared since. For example: Dracula can walk about during the day, but his powers are limited to that of an ordinary person; his powers include the ability to take the forms of bat or wolf, fog, or elemental dust.

Then, too, there’s the ending – or rather, the ending of the Count, not quite the ending of the novel:

By this time the gypsies, seeing themselves covered by the Winchesters, and at the mercy of Lord Godalming and Dr. Seward, had given in and made no further resistance. The sun was almost down on the mountain tops, and the shadows of the whole group fell upon the snow. I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew so well.

As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.

But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat. Whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.

It was like a miracle, but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.

I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.

The Castle of Dracula now stood out against the red sky, and every stone of its broken battlements was articulated against the light of the setting sun.

More than one more modern author, among them Fred Saberhagen, has looked at this death scene, and noted that since 1) You can’t kill a vampire with a knife, and 2) Dracula crumbled into dust, he was not actually killed at the end of the novel. A novel, which by the way, he appears on only 58 pages of. The rest of the 200+ pages are spent talking about him, his powers, his deeds, and everyone else’s life. Like the shark in Jaws, Dracula-the-character is scariest when we don’t actually see him.

But Dracula was a past project.

For the last month, I’ve been reading mysteries, partly because I love them, but partly because it’s autumn, and I think mysteries go well with lengthening shadows and crisper evenings, but the book I began this morning takes me back into classic monster fare.

It’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, I’ve never actually read. I remember seeing Boris Karloff as the Monster in the old movie, and being chilled at the scene with the little girl, the Monster, and the flower. I remember reading riffs on Frankenstein, and of course I know that Rocky Horror for all its silliness is still derivative of Shelley’s work.

So as the nights lengthen further, the weather grows cooler even where I live, in Texas, and the shadows turn into puppet creatures beckoning us to explore the dark and deep parts of our psyches, I’m about to take a break from conventional mysteries and thrillers, leave the comfort of cozy novels, and begin reading Frankenstein.

The Sunday

Review: Murder by Mocha

Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

Murder by Mocha
Cleo Coyle

Description (from
The national bestselling author of Roast Mortem serves readers a fresh new Coffeehouse Mystery.

Includes chocolate recipes!

A divorced, single mom in her forties, Clare Cosi is a coffee shop manager by day, an irrepressible snoop by night. When something is wrong, she considers it her mission in life to right it, and murder is as wrong as it gets.

Can coffee enhance your love life? Clare’s Village Blend coffee beans are being used to create a new java love potion: a Mocha Magic Coffee that’s laced with an herbal aphrodisiac. The product, expected to rake in millions, will be sold exclusively on Aphrodite’s Village, one of the most popular online communities for women. But at the product’s launch party, one of the website’s editors is murdered. Clare is convinced someone wants control of the coffee’s secret formula and is willing to kill to get it. Can she stir up evidence against this bitter killer? Or will she be next on the hit list?

Murder by Mocha

I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to start reading Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries, but I fell in love with her work pretty much instantly. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve been a barista, and I am a coffee snob.

In the most recent addition to this series, Clare Cosi is getting more and more serious with her police detective boyfriend Mike Quinn, and there are two separate murder cases. One’s Clare’s baby, and involves the company funding Mocha Magic, the chocolatey coffee aphrodisiac for which her beans are being used. The other’s a cold case that involves Mike’s colleague (and Clare’s daughter’s lover) Franco.

As always the dialogue is snappy, the descriptions of place feel three dimensional, and the plot is gripping without being too bloody or too silly. It was nice to see Clare’s ex in a helpful role this time, and I get a big kick out of her (former) mother-in-law, as well as the staff of the Village Blend Coffeehouse.

Cosi’s books are always a great way to fall into a season of Autumn mystery reading, and this one marks my first official entry in the 2011 R.I.P. celebration of dark literature.

Goes well with: a salted caramel mocha.

Murder by Mocha
Cleo Coyle
Berkeley, August 2011
384 pages
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30-Day Book Meme #6: Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie

There aren’t a lot of books that really make me sad, though there are many books with individual moments that cause me to get a little weepy. One book that does make me sad, however, is Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. I actually only read it for the first time last month, but it made me sad, and it made me angry – we don’t treat our older citizens very well – and it made me miss my grandparents.