REVIEW: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell #14)

Series: Mary Russell

Book Number: 14

Read this book for: Sherlock Holmes pastiche, period piece, Sherlock Holmes backstory/origin stories, references to original Holmes material, driving plot

Quick Review: Another brilliant novel in the series, and a must-read for anyone who wonders about Mrs. Hudson, even if you’ve never read any of the other Russell novels!

***

Mary Russell had never thought much about Mrs. Hudson and her reasons for following Sherlock Holmes to Sussex to act as his housekeeper in his retirement… until a man claiming to be her son walks into her life and points a gun at her. Why is Mrs. Hudson so faithful to Holmes? And what secrets does her past hide that have now returned to put her in danger?

THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL is the fourteenth novel in the Mary Russell series, and offers a full and interesting background for one of Holmes fans’ most beloved characters: Mrs. Hudson. It also gives tantalizing glimpses into the origins of Sherlock Holmes and the beginning of his career, building on canon Holmes adventure to fascinating effect.

The Mary Russell series is a wonderful continuation from where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle left off with the retirement of Sherlock Holmes. The Crime Review has recommended the series as a whole for its accurate characterizations of Holmes as a person, compelling mysteries, and intelligent writing style that puts the reader on the same intellectual level as Holmes (rather than simply standing in awe, as Watson did).

This story fits very firmly within the rest of the series; slipping into the narrative is much like slipping on your favourite pair of old slippers. However, there are a few marked differences in construction from the rest of the novels. The main difference is how little we actually see and follow Russell in the book. While the backstory of Mrs. Hudson, the telling of which takes up fully half of the novel on its own, is absorbing, and the remainder, which largely follows Mrs. Hudson and Holmes, is also fantastic, I found myself missing Russell and her familiar voice for telling these stories. While this is not the first time Russell has done less of the narration (Holmes has been a leading narrator in previous novels), he is similar enough to Russell that you don’t notice as marked a difference there is in THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL.

That is not to say that it was a necessarily bad thing – as this story centres so much on Mrs. Hudson, it makes sense to see her history from her perspective. And it’s not the history you might expect! One thing that Holmes fans will love is the strong tie of this novel to the canon Holmes story of one of his first cases: THE ADVENTURE OF THE GLORIA SCOTT. The connections King draws are brilliant, and she seamlessly weaves canon with her own creation in this novel.

In fact, the lack of Russell and the ties to canon combine to the result that, not only should you read this book as part of the series, but even if you are a Holmes fan and have not read any of the series, you can (and should!) pick up THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL for more fascinating insight into the standard cast of Holmes characters. The only thing a brand-new reader to the series needs to know is that Mary Russell is Holmes’ young wife, with a mind much like his own.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories – in whatever form – you should read THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL, for a bit of suspense and intrigue, but mostly for the excellent and clever use of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories to gain brilliant new insight into much-loved characters.

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