For those who don't know, the Mary Russell series are books of basically Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. Set in the early 20th Century, King gives Holmes a female romantic and professional partner, Mary Russell, a much younger--and feminist partner. And yes, incongruous and unlikely as that might sound, they work. A lot of the fun is the depiction of Holmes--I'm a fan of the original Conan Doyle stories. Some is just the character of Mary, a strong woman protagonist and vivid character in her own right. And a lot is just the picture it paints of the historical period. We get a glimpse of the world right after the Great War, and each book tends to treat a different slice of it: Palestine, India during the British Raj, a great English estate, Prohibition Era San Francisco. That helps keep the series fresh, and in the last book--and this one--the events of the books hit closer to home. They're not just mysteries for our couple to solve. The last book, <i>Locked Rooms</i>, involved Mary dealing with her troubled past. In this one, pages in, Sherlock Holmes estranged son by Irene Adler shows up on their doorstep.
And that's not all. I don't think any of the other books in the series are darker than this one. This time we get a glimpse of the Bohemian set, <i>avant-garde</i> artists, the world of the occult, even aviation. Reading this I realize that I love these I think even more as historical fiction than mysteries. I love how the books show our modern world taking shape. King so obviously has so much fun with that, mixing fictional and historical characters: Lord Peter Wimsey, Kipling's Kimball O'Hara, Dashiell Hammett, and in this book Aleister Crowley gets some mention. Not that I have any complaints about the mystery aspects. Although King is no Christie or Tey with mind-boggling twists, her plots are solid and with Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell on hand, the one thing these books never do is insult your intelligence with too-stupid-to live characters. One thing I do think I should warn potential readers about. This book is no standalone. My first Mary Russell book was the third book, <i>A Letter of Mary</i>, and I had no problem immersing myself in it. Most of the books can be read on their own. This one, however, ends, if not exactly on a cliffhanger, than certainly with a very, very loose end and a "to be continued." So I'd have the next book, <i>The God of the Hive</i>, close by for after you finish this one.