LOCKED ROOMS, by Laurie R. King.
Cover copy: Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King's highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling mystery series. And this time the first couple of detection pair up to unlock the buried memory of a shocking crime with the power to kill again - lost somewhere in Russell's own past.
After departing Bombay by ship, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are en route to the bustling modern city of San Francisco. There, Mary will settle some legal affairs surrounding the inheritance of her family's old estate. But the closer they get to port, the more Mary finds herself prey to troubling dreams and irrational behavior - a point not lost on Holmes, much to Russell's annoyance.
In 1906, when Mary was six, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and a raging fire that reduced the city to rubble. For years, Mary has denied any memory of the catastrophe that for days turned the fabled streets into hell on earth. But Holmes suspects that some hidden trauma connected with the "unforgettable" catastrophe may be the real culprit for Mary's memory lapse. And no sooner do they begin to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the Russell estate than it becomes apparent that whatever unpleasantness Mary has forgotten, it hasn't forgotten her. Why does her father's will forbid access to the house except in the presence of immediate family? Why did someone break in, then take nothing of value? And why is Russell herself targeted for assassination?
The more questions they ask of Mary's past, the more people from that past turn out to have died violent, unexplained deaths. Now, with the aid of a hard-boiled young detective and crime writer named Hammett, Russell and Holmes find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them through the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent's marriage and the tragic car "accident" that a fourteen-year-old Mary alone survived -- an accident that may not have been an accident at all. What Russell is about to discover is that even a forgotten past never dies...and it can kill again.
Gender of detectives: one male, one female
Continuing our Accused Mary Sue Power Hour, we have Mary Russell -- first Holmes' apprentice, then his wife. I'll admit to picking up this book in fear and trembling. Holmes was one of the icons of my childhood, and there is so very, very much bad Holmes fiction out there.
To my relief, Russell didn't read nearly as Mary Sue as feared. There are hints in that direction (for fuck's sake, she's Holmes' partner
, which is startling enough, and also his wife
, which is worse), but at least in this book, where Russell is repeatedly described as being self-handicapped by her own denial of her past, she isn't given any plot coupons and I came to her same conclusions at about the same time.
The biggest problem I had wasn't so much Russell as it was Holmes. I felt as though I could have swapped out Holmes for any number of possible pulp heros, without particularly affecting the plot, Part of this, I gather, is that King argues that Holmes is actually at least ten years younger than commonly accepted, and thus it is a man in his 60s I'm reading about, rather than a man in his 70s or older.* I have a harder time judging the use of Chinatown and the Chinese: despite King's best attempts, I can't think of any way to use them without running into questions of cultural appropriation and so on.
Over all: like Reiko, I'll score Russell on the good side of the Mary Sue meter...for now, and subject to further study. King can
write: I picked up one of her Kate Martinelli books and was pleasantly surprised how they treated the characters. It comes down to whether a good writer can
redeem certain subjects.
*My initial reaction was a shrug - it wouldn't be the first time, nor the second, that authors have manipulated ages for their own purposes. On the other hand, clicking a link in Wikipedia yielded the claim that she had merely restored Holmes to his proper years, and freed him up for a long and healthy middle age, and I admit to a native distrust of any such grandiose claims.