I do try to be sparring in handing out five stars--and I've read some really fine books lately. But this series is a favorite of mine, and this might be my favorite of the books yet. For those who don't know, the Mary Russell series is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. King created a female counterpart and partner for Sherlock Holmes--a much younger, feminist Jewish American partner. Oh, so many ways it could have gone wrong! But I loved the first Mary Russell book I picked up in the middle of the series, <i>A Letter of Mary</i>, and eventually made my way to the first, <i>The Beekeeper's Apprentice</i> and made my way back up to this, the sixth book. It's been a while since I've read one of these--this is actually something of a direct sequel to the last, <i>O, Jerusalem</i>, and two characters central there, Ali and Mahmoud Hazr, are also central here.
It might have been best to read the books back to back, but I didn't feel like I'd missed a step. You know why I felt I had to give this five stars? Because from the first words I couldn't stop reading to the end and finished the same day. Because from the beginning I felt as if I had stepped into a bath and felt warmth suffuse through my body as I read the descriptions of Mary returning with Holmes. There are just so many elements done right. Sherlock Holmes is a delight to read, a highlight whenever he appears. The historical fiction side is convincing--this is set in 1923 and deals with World War I and its aftermath. I loved the theological and thematic elements woven in--in particular into "Justice Hall" one of those fictional great estates, like <i>Pemberly</i> or </i>Manderley</i>, that dominate a narrative, that is a character in a story. And the mystery--not brilliant in a Christie or Tey twist sort of way--but satisfying. And the book never insults your intelligence. I enjoyed the Stephanie Plum book I read, but soon decided she wouldn't wear well on me--too stupid to live characters don't amuse me. But the so very sharp Holmes and Russell, ah that's a great pleasure.