Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, have spent the last fifteen months traipsing through eight different countries, solving one case after another. As far as Russell is concerned, it’s time for a rest. And the one case that’s beckoning, a case involving a film production about a film production of The Pirates of Penzance holds absolutely no appeal for the non-musical Mary Russell.
But… there’s an in-law problem to deal with. Since learning some unsettling facts about Mycroft in the case chronicled in God of the Hive, Russell has wanted nothing to do with her husband’s brother, and it just so happens that he needs to come stay with them for a couple of weeks. And of course, a pipe would burst at Russell’s Oxford lodgings, causing them to flood right at this time. So against her better judgment, Russell lets Holmes talk her into joining the crew of Randolf Fflyte’s (Fflytes of Fancy!) production company. Her job is to investigate the disappearance of the previous production assistant and to find out why so many of Fflyte’s films end up linked to criminal activity.Thus begins Pirate King, the 11th of Laurie King’s books about Russell and Holmes.
Teresa: One of my favorite things about this series is how King has managed to keep things fresh over so many books. She’s not afraid to take risks and try new things, and Pirate King is altogether new and different. There have been plenty of funny moments through the books, but this is the first outright comedy in the series. After the tension of the last two books, I found the silliness here to be a much-needed relief (even if Mary herself wasn’t having a good time [a tendency to overseriousness being one of her flaws (although her use of parentheses [always perfectly punctuated] in her letters cracked me up [probably because I’m a grammar and punctuation geek])]).
Jenny: Oh, now you’re making me laugh almost as much as she did. I’ll admit that in the first chapter or two, I was a little nervous that this book would be too frothy for me, but, for me, there were two wonderful things about this entry in the series. The first was finding out that Laurie King is as good at farce and slapstick as she is at everything else (one word for you: goat!) and the second was finding out that Russell and Holmes remain Russell and Holmes, no matter in which pastures they’re romping.
Teresa: Ha! The goat! And the piano! I suspected King would manage the comedy well, but she really went all out here. And you’re quite right that she did an excellent job maintaining the integrity of Russell and Holmes themselves. Watching them react to the silliness was one of the book’s pleasures. They never stop taking the actual mystery seriously, even when the situation is ludicrous. And although the stakes never seem as high as in many of the other books, the danger at the end was pretty serious, when you think about what the villains intended to do. It’s popular these days to look at pirates as lovable rebels, and I liked that King plays with that image without turning them into heroes.
Jenny: Yes, and since the mystery isn’t thoroughly solved until the end, it’s hard to know whether the pirates really are lovable rebels or whether they’re dyed-in-the-wool nasties. (And I’m not saying which they are, either.) King lets us have a pleasurable sense of threat without ever losing the sublime ridiculousness that permeates the book — totally inevitable with a flock of actresses, a fleet of pirates, and a translator with multiple-personality issues. I like these books best when Russell and Holmes are working together, and that was done beautifully here.
There were a few loose ends when the book wrapped up — one of which was left over from The God of the Hive! Do you think she’ll settle any of them, or do you think we’ll be left to wonder?
Teresa: I have a feeling that all the threads related to Mycroft will continue to build in future books (there is another Russell/Holmes novel, Garment of Shadows, planned for 2012), but I’m not sure that the Mycroft storyline can ever be resolved. I was thrilled to see a mention of Robert Goodman, which makes me wonder if he’ll be back. I can also see potential for one of the new characters from this book showing up again, but I think this book is at heart a one-off. Remember that Russell herself said she wasn’t sure she wanted to include this incident among her memoirs.
I do want to mention how much I love the way all these books are grounded in their time and place. This book was no exception. So many references to films and books and music—and to real people like Fernando Pessoa whom I’d never heard of before. Mary’s observations about The Sheik were especially hilarious, not to mention familiar; some obnoxious literary tropes have been around a long time.
Jenny: They certainly have. Watching Russell observe the actresses on board, so she could simultaneously fit in and dodge the pitfalls, was like watching an expert tightrope act. It’s another part of why I love this series. Even when King is having fun, it’s really smart, well-researched fun. The Gilbert and Sullivan portion of the entertainment was especially wonderful, as I have a friend who used to be completely obsessed with their oeuvre! I really liked the idea of sending encoded messages in a song that’s already practically encoded. Also, as a Patrick O’Brian fan, I loved the part on board ship. Except for her fear of heights, Russell would have made a fine foremast jack. Um, jill.
All in all, a marvelously satisfying romp with our detectives! I can’t wait for the next installment!