Justice Hall by Laurie R King
published 2002 set in 1923
[the narrator is visiting a small airfield in Canada]
In a moment the plane’s pilot climbed out of the cockpit and jumped easily to the ground. She was a tall woman, as tall as I but broader in the shoulders, and I could well imagine her slinging a wounded Tommy across her back. Then she began removing the layers of clothing that kept her from freezing. Thick scarf unwrapped from her neck and face, the helmet and goggles. Yes there were those famous emerald eyes, that ebony hair, but something else as well, a small fact that Gabriel had failed to record.
She was what the boy’s parents would no doubt have termed a half breed. Ireland lay in her eyes and her surname, but those Irish ancestors had intermarried with folk who knew neither freckles nor red hair. She was perhaps a quarter American Indian, maybe an eighth, but plenty to mark her as an odd choice for the heir to one of the oldest dukedoms in England.
She was also extraordinarily beautiful.
She shook her short hair loose of the helmet’s marks and shot us a grin of pure high spirits, a grin I recognized instantly from a blurred photograph of overall-clad drivers in France. “You two ladies looking to learn to fly?”
observations: Justice Hall is a mashup of every modern First World War book ever – Birdsong, A Very Long Engagement, Private Peaceful, The Wood Beyond - spiced up with a touch of Little Lord Fauntleroy. And then King adds a posh English country house party, and some bits from Beau Geste, and a touch of plot from Wives and Daughters. Few books have quite so many literary forebears…. and we haven’t even mentioned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This series – which began with the sublime Beekeeper's Apprentice – takes a bizarre initial concept (retired Sherlock Holmes marries young American woman, they undertake adventures together) and some very unlikely plots, and produces very long detailed books. The two leads end up in all kinds of situtations, many of them fairly irrelevant to the narrative arc - the description of the shooting party in Justice Hall goes on forever, but really adds little to the plot. You have to be in the mood for these books, but they are very entertaining if you adapt yourself to their rhythms. Laurie King is a prolific writer, and never less than a good read – she produces this series, a modern series feature a woman cop in San Francisco, and a couple of standalones.
Links up with: All the books above. This entry is a 1930 book dealing with the aftermath of the Great War.
The splendidly androgynous picture is from the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive – it shows ‘individual 23’. An equally beautiful picture of an aviation pioneer illustrated Hunger Games in April.