Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dark Clouds Gathering in 1920's Europe

Russell and Holmes #15
Laurie R. King
June 12, 2018

It's 1925, and Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are still recovering from the events of The Murder Of Mary Russell and the loss of their longtime friend and housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Her departure forces Russell to undertake domestic duties with frustrating and less than stellar results. One evening Russell receives a call that will upturn their lives and take them into the fledgling fascist state taking shape in Italy. Her friend Ronnie Beaconsfield's aunt Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has disappeared from a family gathering, along with her nurse. Lady Vivian, still young in her early 30's, has been in and out of asylums most of her adult life. Her most recent home is Bethlehem Hospital, the notorious "Bedlam." Bedlam is a far cry from the nightmare it was in previous centuries, and Vivian is now voluntarily committed, having been placed there by a less than sympathetic half-brother. Ronnie is unable to help in the search as she is still a recent widow, in straitened circumstances with a toddler to raise on her own.

As their investigation proceeds, Russell and Holmes discover that there is more than there appears to be to Vivian and her half-brother. Vivian is not mad, and her brother may be more sinister than the average upper-class twit. They are lead to believe that Vivian fled on her own, with the aid of her nurse, and may be hiding among the louche expatriate society which congregates on the Lido in Venice in summer. Sherlock's brother Mycroft importunes him to investigate what is going on in Italy, in the fear that fascist ideology is gaining a foothold in England. Russell and Holmes encounter Black-shirted brutality on their first evening in Venice and learn to steer away from the thugs. Both Elsa Maxwell (who I actually remember from the ancient TV show, Whats My Line?) and famous songwriter, Cole Porter, play a part in the search for Vivian. Both Russell and Holmes are playing roles; Russell as a rich party girl and Holmes as an itinerant violinist

I was not on board with the Russell-Holmes series in the beginning. The idea that Holmes might have an adolescent girl as a partner and later wife seemed absurd. It only took reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice to win me over, however. Ms. King has a beautiful knack for bringing places in particular and history into focus. We have traveled all over the world with Holmes and Russell; Palestine, France, Japan, San Francisco, and more. Each place is so well-described that I felt I had visited there myself. Actual historical figures who appear in the books are always accurately represented, even though they are placed in fictional situations. There is a broad vein of feminism running through all the books and political commentary on the times. Ms. King makes a tongue in cheek disclaimer in her afterword about the book "not being political." It is hard to not draw parallels to our own times, with the rise of right-wing politics, intolerance for homosexuality and attempts to roll back hard-won women's rights. I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the Holmes oeuvre and historical fiction. I would suggest starting at the beginning of the series to get the full enjoyment. Thanks to Bantam Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING 4.5 Stars

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