Saturday, March 21, 2015
Dreaming Spies / Laurie R. King
New York: Bantam, c2015
I spent some time with an enjoyable read this weekend -- this latest installment of Laurie King's Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series.
I was really in the mood for something entertaining, and Mary Russell is a great choice when I'm looking for something smart and yet simply engaging. I have read all the books in this series, and whether the action is fast and exciting or slower and more thoughtful, I always make sure I read them! The characters are wonderful, and King's settings are always fun to explore. Her writing is detailed and full of research that colours the narrative.
This one goes back in time a little, being set just before Mary and Holmes make it to California -- so the beginning is set between The Game and Locked Rooms. The final parts are then set a bit later, after Garment of Shadows. I think that's right ;)
The story starts as Russell and Holmes leave India, and a long case there, to head toward Japan. Onboard the cruise ship that they are forced to take (argh, all that society!) Holmes recognizes a blackmailer from his past. Russell, on the other hand, makes the acquaintance of a sweet young Japanese girl, Haruki Sato. Nothing, of course, is what it seems.
Suitable to the slow progress of their ship, this story is quite slow-paced. There is lots and lots and lots of information given about Japan in the 20s, from the lectures that Haruki presents to the passengers to pass the time, to the lengthy encounters with local customs that Russell and Holmes are forced to endure once they get to Japan. All this leading up to a vital meeting that (finally, halfway through) indicates what their new case will consist of -- a case with potential international repercussions.
The story jumps from shipboard to rural Japan and back to Sussex and Oxford. Each element ties together to build a complex tale, although it's less tricky of a plot than some of the other entries in this series. And it does feel like Holmes and Russell are a bit extraneous to the resolution of this mystery.
If Russell and Holmes weren't such an appealing pair, if their dynamics didn't interest me so much, I'm not sure this one would have kept me reading without any skimming. It was a bit draggy in plot, but just reading about another encounter between Holmes, Russell, and a new culture made it worth it for me. Despite the slow pace, and the extensive Japan travelogue, I did enjoy this read. Mary Russell is simply wonderful; I love reading about her internal development and her studies, especially when she heads to the Bodleian in the last bit of this book. I always love a good librarian cameo ;)
And I did learn quite a lot about Japanese culture in the 20's. Now I really want a cup of tea. Green tea.
Serendipitously, as I was reading this, my husband pointed out this amazing story about a ryokan that has been open for 1300 years. Now that's a family business!
If you are just starting with this book you must go back and read this series from the beginning. Like Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, the first few books are definitely the strongest, even while they are all enjoyable.
If it's all the Japanese content that you find fascinating here, try some of Lafcadio Hearn's writings: he was a Westerner who moved to Japan in the late 1800s, married a Japanese woman and had 4 children, and wrote many books through the 1890's and up until 1904 when he died. His books share his Westerner's look at traditional Japanese culture, literature and more, as it moved into the 20th century.