Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King – Review

About the book, Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King Dreaming Spies

Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Publisher: Bantam (17 February 2015)
Hardcover: 352 Pages

Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Buy a copy of Dreaming Spies

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Thoughts:

I’ve been a fan of the Russell/Holmes series since they first started, so when I realized there was a chance I could review the latest book before it’s release date (thank you NetGalley), I begged for the chance. Okay, I didn’t beg, but I did make the request, and was granted permission. I’m glad I did, because this was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story takes place in two parts. The first is on the way to, and then in, Japan, and involves the Russell/Holmes version of a road trip as they learn to appreciate Japanese culture, and even to blend in, slightly, though their journey culminates in espionage and an attempt to help protect the Emperor’s honor.

The second place takes place back home – Russell’s home – in Oxford, and is basically the ‘what happens after’ part of the original mission.

I liked the new characters, the explanations of the history of ninjas and the use of traditional (albeit translated) haiku as chapter headers. I also liked the touches that author King puts in that let us peek behind the curtains of Russell’s and Holmes’s relationship – Holmes doesn’t like to play the ‘older husband to a young girl’ role, and yet, he is older, and she is younger, and I think his aging is factoring into things more and more…

King, as always, blends mystery with social commentary and a close look at non-western cultures, and does so in a way that is incredibly satisfying, but not so much so that the reader isn’t immediately looking forward to the next novel in the series.

I didn’t want this book to end.
I can’t wait for the next one.

Goes well with miso soup, sashimi, tempura, and jasmine tea.

Review: Pirate King

Pirate King

Pirate King
Laurie R. King

Description (from Amazon.com):
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
Buy the book from Amazon.com >>

Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

30-Day Book Meme #3: Holmes & Russell

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

When you fall in love with a character or world, it’s natural to want more of what you love. I think that’s why so many of us read series of novels. I’m told that whenever you’re trying to sell a novel, if they ask you “Do you have an idea for a sequel?” the answer should always be “yes,” because series make money. Multiple books in general make money, actually, but people buy what they know.

The 30-Day Book Meme wants me to tell you my favorite series. There are so many. The Little House and Anne of Green Gables books, as well as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys kept me entertained all during my childhood. As I grew older, I fell for such different series as The Cat Who… mysteries, and the Mrs. Pollifax novels, but I also loved Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, Anne Rice’s vampire and witch series (before she was popular and trendy, and later, overdone), and Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books.

I love the Star Trek tie-in novels, and I also love the Pink Carnation series. I’ve spent hours on Darkover, Pern, and Valdemar, I’m a sucker for Harry Potter’s adventures, and I’m getting into Game of Thrones after watching the HBO series (my husband loves those books). I sip coffee with Cleo Coyle’s baristas and want to visit her alter-ego’s Haunted Bookshop.

But if I had to pick a favorite? It would have to be Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novels, first because I’m a Holmes junkie from way back, and second because she writes Mary with a feminist sensibility that I really enjoy. The books are well written, well plotted, and entertaining without being stupid.

They are best read in order, so begin with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and if you’re diligent, and read as fast as I do, by the time the new book comes out on September 6th, you’ll be ready!

Review: The God of the Hive

The God of the Hive
The God of the Hive
Laurie R. King
Bantam, 368 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

I’ve been a fan of Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and her older husband, the legendary Sherlock Holmes, since the first book hit the stores, so of course, I had to have the latest adventure the very second it came out. When The God of the Hive arrived, however, I put it aside, planning to savor it while on vacation. Instead, I read all the paperbacks I’d brought with me, so that I could leave them for my mother, and didn’t read this novel until I got home.

One of the things I love about this series is the level of detail King includes. While she doesn’t have to know what passed for the best acne treatment in Holmesian London, she does have to know where one can find certain kinds of stationery, or where a bolthole might be located.

In this book, which is a direct sequel to the previous installment, The Language of Bees, Russell and Holmes are still separated by the requirements of their current case – Holmes fleeing with his injured long-lost son, and meets up with a Scottish doctor, who ends up being a fabulous addition to the existing cast of characters. Mary, on the other hand, has the aeroplane pilot, and Holmes’ half-Chinese granddaughter to contend with, though she, too, hooks up with a helper who turns out to be quite beneficial to all concerned.

There isn’t much detection in this novel – there is character and there’s plot, but it’s basically a chase scene interrupted by action.

The good news, however, is that it’s still, undeniably King’s work, which is always incredibly compelling reading.

Teaser Tuesday: The God of the Hive

On Teaser Tuesdays readers are asked to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between 7 and 12 lines.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novels are some of my favorite mysteries ever, and not just because I like taking a break from a world where we discuss hair growth shampoo and spending time in a world where high tea is a normal event. I’ve been a Holmes fan since as long as I can remember, but I love the relationship that King has created with his protege’ cum wife Mary. It just works.

Like many of her readers, the “to be continued” ending of the last novel really disappointed me, which is why I’ve been counting the days until The God of the Hive was ready. My copy arrived today. I can’t wait to read it!

Evening, and I might have curled up to sleep fully clothed except it had occurred to me that children required putting to bed. Estelle and Goodman were in front of the fire, he on the floor with Damian’s sketch-book on his knee, she stretched with her belly across the tree-round he used as a foot-stool, narrating the drawings for him. I had found the book in my rucksack, astonished that it had survived this far, and leafed through its pages before I gave it to her, making sure it contained none of his detailed nudes or violent battle scenes. Some of the drawings I had found mildly troubling, but doubted a small child would notice.

— from The God of the Hive, by Laurie R. King (page 80)

Wednesday Salon

Technically this should be a Sunday Salon entry, but I slept through half of Sunday, and spent the other half cleaning, so I’m writing a chattery post now because I’m in the middle of half a dozen novels, but not done enough with any to write reviews…yet.

Lately, I’ve been in a mystery mood – everything from the kinds of novels where dead bodies are wrapped up in rugs, to the kinds of novels that are more about puzzles. I’m reading the Aurora Teagarden series, by Southern Vampire Mysteries author Charlaine Harris, but I’m re-reading Laurie R. King’s latest Holmes/Russell novel The Language of Bees as well.

The Teagarden novels actually predate the Sookie Stackhouse series, and while they share the same southern flair, they’re also a bit cozier, and a bit gentler. These are modern mysteries for those of us who still hold Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot fondly in our hearts.

As to Laurie R. King – I reviewed a number of her Holmes/Russell novels this spring, as I was re-reading them all (and filling out my collection) in preparation for the most recent book. She writes amazingly plausible Holmes situations, adding a sidekick/wife/colleague who blends perfectly into the world.

Don’t believe me? Check out this trailer for the most recent book:

Review: The Language of Bees, by Laurie R. King

The Language of Bees
Laurie R. King
Get it at Amazon.com >>

In the latest installment of the Holmes and Russell series, The Language of Bees the bees Holmes is raising in Sussex serve as both metaphor and counterpoint to the action-packed mystery. One of his hives is swarming, something bees apparently do when they suspect their keeper is not returning, and Mary is left alone with that problem, as Holmes as followed their latest client into London.

The nature of this story makes it impossible to review without minor spoilers. The client is question Holmes’ son, we are told, from an affair he had with Irene Adler during the years in which he was supposed to be dead. The mystery: the location of this grown son’s wife and small daughter.

Obviously there are tramps across wet moors, nights spent in boltholes with amenities (or a lack thereof) that are a far cry from the scale of a Riviera hotel – in fact, over the entire series both Holmes and Mary Russell have spent an inordinate amount of time being wet, dirty, cold, or hungry – conditions I normally object to reading about, but don’t mind in these stories in the slightest.

There is also familial angst (what if Holmes’ son murdered is family, what if Holmes’ loyalty is to the son he barely knows rather than Mary?) and a wild aeroplane flight to enhance the mystery.

Sadly, while the mystery is solved, at the end of the novel we are confronted with three words that the author says were meant to offer hope of another story, but which I always find frustrating: To be continued.

Goes well with hot tea and scones or crumpets followed by a hot bubble bath.

Review: Locked Rooms, by Laurie R. King

Locked Rooms
Laurie R. King
Get it from Amazon >>

Just when you thought it was safe to revisit this blog, I’ve got yet another Holmes/Russell novel to review. Of the nine books in the series, so far, I have to confess that this one is my favorite because it delves into Mary’s past in San Francisco.

Locked Rooms picks up exactly where The Game left off, with Holmes and Russell on a ship en route to California, with a sojourn in Japan we don’t hear much about. This time there are no shipboard masquerades where we see Mary donning the 1920’s-equivalent of a hot school girl costume, because Mary is having nightmares. Nightmares about her childhood in San Francisco, circa the 1906 earthquake. The problem, of course, is that Mary doesn’t think she lived in SFO at that time.

It was surreal reading about Sherlock Holmes walking the streets with which I’m so familiar, and the murder mystery part of the novel was intriguing, as always. What I found so much more compelling, however, was the internal struggle Mary Russell had, between what she thinks she remembers, and the cold hard facts.

A word of caution: While many of the Holmes/Russell novels can be read out of sequence, this one really requires a working familiarity with the previous books in the series.

Review: The Game, by Laurie R. King

The Game
Laurie R. King
Get it at Amazon >>

When I first realized that The Game was the name of the seventh Holmes and Russell mystery, I thought it referred to a literal game. I knew it didn’t mean XBox, of course, since these novels take place in the twenties. Chess, I thought, might be the game that was…afoot.

I was wrong, and pleasantly so. The game in the title is a double entendre, referring both to the game of observation and spying, and on literal game (wild boar), or, make that a triple entendre, because it also refers to the roles people play when shifting among different social circles.

This novel sees Sherlock Holmes and wife/partner Mary Russell heading to India, where they are to locate one Kimball O’Hara, aka Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I confess, I never read that Kipling story – though I’ve read others – and I wonder if I’d have appreciated this novel more if I had, but even without that background information, I quite enjoyed this adventure which had Holmes and Russell on a ship, a donkey cart and even, at the end an aeroplane.

As always, King has given us a rollicking good time, and Holmes’ voice rings true.

Review: Justice Hall, by Laurie R. King

Justice Hall
Laurie R. King
Get it at Amazon >>

My Holmes/Russell reading fest draws to a temporary close with Justice Hall, which, while much later than O Jerusalem in terms of internal chronology, is nonetheless a direct sequel.

In this novel, Holmes and Russell are called to the aid of friends originally met in Palestine, Mahmoud and Ali, who are now back home in the English personalities, and dealing with all the angst and politics that large, wealthy families seem to corner the market on. There aren’t any mentions of modern diseases like mesothelioma, but there are hunting parties, hidden relatives, and even a severe case of sepsis.

It includes many of the favorite elements of all these novels – snarky comments from Mary, wry observation from Holmes, a near-perfect period setting, and great disguises. And, like all of King’s work in this series, leaves the reader wanting more.

I’ve noticed that when I read King’s work the Holmes I hear in my head speaks in Jeremy Brett’s voice, and I think that proves the excellence of her work.