Monday, 9 February 2015

Locked Rooms by Laurie R King


published 2005

Locked Rooms 1
 
[Mary Russell and two friends have gone for a few days to her family cabin in the woods]

Tuesday was a day of leisure, an unlooked-for holiday from care, during which we at last eased into the attitudes appropriate to a summer house. The weather cooperated in the venture, with a slight high fog to keep the sun from waking us too early, then burning off to present us a day worthy of the Riviera. Flo and Donny appeared, yawning and tousled, to exclaim in appreciation of the sparkle off the lake. Flo turned on her heel and went back to don her bathing costume, and trotted down the lawn and to the end of the dock where she stood, pulling on her red bathing cap, before launching herself off the end into the water…

 
Locked Rooms 2

We ate lunch, and then Donny wanted to try the canoes. Flo protested that the sun was too hot , but he offered her one of his long shirts, and that (along with a wide straw hat from the house) mollified her. They paddled, they swam, I joined them and sat out, and then it was somehow evening, and the happy melancholy of physical repletion coupled with too much sun settled over us. We had a drink, and dinner , and played billiards in the front room until the worst of the mosquitoes had been driven off by the citronella.

 
observations: The ever wonderful Vicki (@skiourophile) did her roundup of 2014 at her Bibliolathas blog recently, and I was very taken with her item listing deaths from consumption in books read, an idea that I fervently (almost feverishly - I hope I don't start coughing and get red patches on my cheeks) want to copy. So this book gets me off to a good start for the year: a lot of coughing, and a seriously ill person. Actually, he doesn’t die, and we know he will live for a long time, because he is the great hard-boiled writer Dashiell Hammett (appearance on the blog related to Sam Spade in his combis). So in a very confusing and meta manner: this fiction is about Mary Russell, who is married to Sherlock Holmes, who is a ‘real person’ who was, supposedly, written about by some vague combination of Watson and Conan Doyle. They are investigating something in San Francisco in the 1924, and they come across Hammett, who helps them. It is difficult to keep straight.

I loved some of the Russell/Holmes books, but have found a few of them (I need to whisper) a bit dull. But this was a return to form – Russell visits San Francisco to look into family affairs she has been trying to forget, and finds strange goings-on relating to both the SF earthquake and fire of 1906, and the death of her family in 1914. The plot is both completely ridiculous and very easy to guess – not helped by the fact that King (a terrific writer) seems to be  unable to produce convincing villains, and anyway divides her characters into the good, the nice, the tasteful – and those who are not so much. Nobody ever leaps out of their category, or surprises you by being virtuous and unpleasant, or delightful but wicked.

But I still enjoy her long detailed looks at life, and the bits about the San Francisco earthquake were particularly absorbing – more to follow on this. It is possible this book would actually have been better without the presence of Sherlock Holmes, and maybe even better as a straight novel?

Both the pictures are from the wonderful Helen Richey collection at the San Diego Air and Space Museum – a lovely resource for this blog. There were plenty of descriptions of flapper party dresses in the book, but I thought it would be nice to show Mary and Flo enjoying their days at the lodge…

King's Justice Hall, also featuring Holmes and Russell, gave us a couple of entries back in 2012 - with two very splendid pictures, one of them using the Helen Richey collection again. 









21 comments:

  1. I do like San Francisco books - is there any fog? But not this one thanks.

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    1. The setting is very well done, though not particularly foggy. Yes, I always like books set in San Francisco, there's something about it that goes well with crime...

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  2. Sherlock Holmes married?
    Why haven't the Baker Street Irregulars taken Ms Russell on a one-way trip to the Reichenbach Falls?

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    1. You made me spit out my coffee laughing this morning....

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    2. Surely if Holmes were to marry it would be to Irene Adler, anyway.
      Now that would be an interesting idea for a series...

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    3. Yes - someone's going to do that one of these days...

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  3. Moira - Interesting isn't it how King weaves all of those things together. I do like the way she depicts place and time, and this one sounds no different in that respect. And I do like that San Francisco setting.

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    1. I think that's her great strength Margot - you're more likely to remember the setting than the villain in her books I think! But they are always very entertaining.

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  4. Moira: I read the earlier books in the series and all the books in her series with Kate Martinelli. I was not enjoying some of the Russell / Holmes books and drifted away. It sounds like time to return to the series.

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    1. That's rather how I felt about the, Bill. I loved The Beekeeper's Apprentice so much, but (one of us) lost the impetus later. But I did enjoy this one, and will get onto another in the series at some point.

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  5. Moira, a famous hard-boiled writer joining hands with an equally famous hard-boiled detective, and his wife Mary Russell, to investigate a case? You know, I actually like the way this one sounds. A "ridiculous" plot often livens up a book.

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    1. You're right Prashant, you just have to give in and go with the flow when the casting gets this outrageous!

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  6. Hmmm, not read any of King's pastiches - can't say this one sounds all that marvellous to me, though I have nothing against the form per se (I really liked Joe Gores' book on Hammett for instance) - half the office is down with various bugs, so I can definitely relate to all the coughing!

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    1. It's a case where real life is safer - in books and films if anyone has a cough you know they're for it. (Apart from Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver, who is just drawing attention to her sleuthing.) I'm not usually one for a Holmes pastiche, but this series has patchy rewards....

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    2. 'Patchy rewards' - made me thing of the TV show's rather amusing nicotine update, "This is a three patch problem"

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  7. Did you see that Linda Grant is writing a book set in a TB sanatorium? *squeals with joy* (https://twitter.com/lindasgrant/status/565108495394275328)

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    1. Oh that does sound good. Definitely. For quite a large part of my life I've been thinking I ought to read the Magic Mountain, but now I can think I have to read Grant first.

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  8. I had bronchitis in January, a totally new experience to me. So the idea of coughing is repellent at the moment. Took a long time to get over and I actually still have occasional problems with coughing. Amazing what it does to you.

    Getting back to Laurie R. King, I was just thinking about her today because I was thinking about favorite female sleuths (in regards to Kate Martinelli). Still haven't given up on a list of those. It bothers me that it is so hard for me to list even 10 favorite female sleuths. (Of any age.)

    Anyway, Laurie R. King and the Mary and Sherlock Holmes series. I have only read the first one. I was told I would immediately need to read the second, but that did not happen to me. I do have the 2nd one and some following that, but have not continued. I am sure I will someday.

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    1. I still think the first one is the best. I stayed up late at night reading it, and next day was straight out to the bookstore for the next one. I once went to a talk King gave, and she was SO interesting, I liked her very much.

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    2. and, btw, hope you are feeling better now and have stopped coughing!

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