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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'The Moor' Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #4 by Laurie R. King


From the BLURB:

In the eerie wasteland of Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes summons his devoted wife and partner, Mary Russell, from her studies at Oxford to aid the investigation of a death and some disturbing phenomena of a decidedly supernatural origin.

Through the mists of the moor there have been sightings of a spectral coach made of bones carrying a woman long-ago accused of murdering her husband--and of a hound with a single glowing eye. Returning to the scene of one of his most celebrated cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Russell investigate a mystery darker and more unforgiving than the moors themselves.

‘The Moor’ is the fourth book in historical mystery series ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ by Laurie R. King, first published in 1998.

For a little while there in 2014 I was seriously into King’s ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’. Having just discovered the series I tore through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary in a matter of weeks and gave five-stars to all. And then I got to fourth book The Moor and reading it was slow-going … I couldn’t get into the story, which sees Mary and her now-husband Sherlock Holmes revisiting one of Watson’s famous tales (really Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s) The Hound of the Baskervilles. The mystery of this fourth book just wasn’t clicking for me, possibly because it felt like there was an over-reliance on the Conan Doyle original to ground the plot, whereas in the first few books of the series I’d been thoroughly enjoying the originality and Holmes’ determination to break away from his famous detective past.

I also found it hard to get into a reading groove with this book, because it lacked the chemistry between Mary and Holmes that I’d been so enjoying in the first three. Book one felt like a very platonic relationship between the two, in which they were both finding their footing with one another – but by book two it was clear there was more going on between them than just mentor/mentee, and as they became equal partners in investigations, you could really read the spark of romance between them. By book three they were very recently married, and it was fascinating reading them adjust. Book four actually has Mary and Holmes separated for a fair bit of the investigation into a ghostly carriage roaming the Moors, which worked to highlight that Mary is very much still her own woman and capable of functioning without her new husband, but means we’re not getting as much of that witty banter and cunning back-and-forth between them.

But since I started reading and then put aside ‘The Moor’, Laurie R King has released two more ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ books – ‘Dreaming Spies’ and ‘The Murder of Mary Russell’ – the 14th book in particular has been causing quite a buzz in the fandom community that has not gone unnoticed by me (the blurb promises, the series will “never be the same after this bombshell”). Thus, I’ve pushed myself to finish ‘The Moor’ so I can get back on track with this series with aims of getting to books #13 and #14. It was a slog, but I’m glad that on the other side of ‘The Moor’ is book number five, ‘O Jerusalem’ which I have on good authority is a favourite instalment for lots of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ fans.

So I slogged through ‘The Moor’ – and eventually I must admit the very thing that was annoying me (an over-reliance on referencing Conan Doyle’s Baskervilles) became – if not endearing, – then certainly intriguing. Laurie R. King takes the opportunity of placing Sherlock Holmes in close proximity to, quite possibly, his most famous case as a way to examine how much he hates and rejects the fame and infamy that Watson’s stories have brought him. And it provides at least one nice opportunity for Mary Russell to come to Holmes’s defence;

‘My husband does not really enjoy talking about his old cases, Mr Ketteridge. It makes him uncomfortable.’ 
Most men, and certainly forceful men like Ketteridge, tend to overlook women unless they be unattached and attractive. I usually allow this because I often find it either amusing or convenient to be invisible.
 
On that level I appreciated ‘The Moor’ within the series and in expanding the universe of Mary Russell and Holmes. This book ended up feeling like burying the past, where in the beginning I had resented King’s bringing it too much to the fore;
 ‘Gould?’ Holmes laughed. ‘He’s the most gullible of the lot, full of the most awful balderdash. He’ll tell you how a neighbour’s horse panicked one night at the precise spot where a man would be killed some hours later, how another man carried on a conversation with his wife who was dying ten miles away, how – Revelations, visitations, spooks, you name it – he’s worse than Concan Doyle, with his fairies and his spiritualism.’

But I still found this mystery too slow going, and the sluggish pace (which seems in keeping with the ethos of locals Russell and Holmes find themselves in the company of) rather infuriating, and not conducive to a steady read. I also didn’t love that Russell and Holmes split up to investigate separately for a fairly good chunk of this story. All in all, this is not my favourite instalment but I have my suspicions (even just looking at Goodreads ratings!) that quite a few don’t love this particular addition to the series, and soldiered on as I now have to get to the other side and better instalments of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’.

2/5


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