Just a few weeks after the conclusion of The Pirate King, Sherlock Holmes finds that his wife, Mary Russell, has gone missing from the Moroccan hotel where she has been staying with the film crew from their most recent adventure. Three days earlier, she was seen walking in the desert holding hands with a small child. Her only message was a note saying that she was going to Fez.
As Holmes wonders what his wife could be up to, Russell wakes up alone and in pain, with blood on her hands. She has no idea where, or who, she is.
Teresa: Let’s just get this out of the way right now. I loved this book. Of course, I’m a fan of the series and predisposed to enjoy all things Mary Russell, but this book is among the very best in the series. After 12 books, consistent quality would be enough to please me, but somehow Laurie King still manages to top herself.
Jenny: She keeps raising the bar, doesn’t she? After a quick, fun breather with a little farce in Pirate King, we are back to tense mystery and some solid emotional connection with both Russell and Holmes in this episode. Those readers who begin with this book may feel a little lost, because there is so much important back story here (Ali and Mahmoud! Mycroft and his machinations! References to practically every other problem Russell and Holmes have investigated together!), but for those of us who have followed the series, it may be the most utterly satisfying one yet.
Teresa:I definitely wouldn’t recommend this for newbies to the series! O Jerusalem at the very least would be essential reading before this one, but even that might not be enough. Knowledge of the background isn’t necessary for understanding the basic plot, but some of the emotional complexity will be lost for readers without that knowledge. I also want to mention that fans of the series who couldn’t quite get behind the farce of Pirate King–and I know you’re out there–will be glad to know that this book is a return to her usual style.
Besides being delighted to see Ali and Mahmoud again, I was thrilled that we got a few swoon-worthy romantic moments. These books focus on Russell and Holmes’s professional partnership, and I prefer that over a focus on the romance. Still, it’s nice to be reminded that these two have some strong chemistry that isn’t centered on solving crimes.
Jenny: I should probably note that for us, “swoon-worthy” means something like a glance held a moment longer than usual, or a discreet reference to hands grazing under a table. We are not talking bodice-ripping here; it’s not Russell and Holmes’s style!
One of the great pleasures for me, here, was the dilemma Russell faced with her amnesia. (No spoiler — it’s the first thing that happens in the book.) I loved the way she was forced to learn about herself and her environment, to deduce rationally — but also to rely on her gut, about friends and foes. The setting of the city of Fez was perfect for this, since it was unfamiliar twisty streets, just like her unfamiliar twisty mind. King’s prose was marvelous for this — I felt like I was there!
Teresa: Ha ha! Yes, readers who can’t stand the idea of their favorite classic characters being cast as erotic heroes really don’t need to worry. The heat here is understated, but all the more effective for it.
I also liked the way the amnesia story was handled. I felt that it gave us a chance to see her acting purely on deduction and instinct, without Holmes and without any context to bias her. It’s one of the best demonstrations of Russell’s skills that we’ve seen so far.
Jenny: But it also gives her a chance to choose her friends (including Holmes) all over again, which was (ahem) swoon-worthy, I must admit. Amnesia could have been cheesy or a cop-out, but it turned out to be a marvelous plot device.
The actual mystery was also wonderfully done. While I know almost nothing of the politics of North Africa of that period, King kept me right up to speed with all the characters and personalities involved, and with everything that was at stake. It was tremendously gripping.
Teresa: The mystery was indeed excellent. I was especially impressed with how well King incorporated historical events and people I’d never heard of, like the Rif War and Resident General Lyautey. One of the terrific things about this series is the way it explores so many different places. It’s such a joy to travel the world with Russell and Holmes.
The other great thing about the mystery is how genuinely suspenseful it was. There were some terrifying moments, and my heart was in my throat for most of the closing chapters. Ali and Mahmoud are among my favorite characters in the series, and the tension surrounding them was almost too much for me!
Jenny: It was a glorious book. Suspenseful, twisty, completely satisfying for those of us who have been following the adventures of Russell and Holmes since 1996 (yes, that’s when I read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice!), and tantalizing, too: if these memoirs of their work together keep getting better each time, what more might she have in store for us? I can’t wait to find out.
We should note that Garment of Shadows will be published September 4, 2012. It is available for pre-order now!