I’m not sure how I managed to miss this, the thirteenth novel in Laurie King’s series of Mary Russell/ Sherlock Holmes novels, when it came out in 2015. I’ve been reading them since the very beginning, and normally I leap on each one with glee. Well, I’ve leaped on it now! Dreaming Spies, a cleverly-constructed novel that takes place mostly on a cruise ship and in Japan in 1924, is an entertaining entry in the series, a pleasure to read, and thoroughly satisfying.
Teresa wrote a review of this book right when it was released, and it’s such a good review that I’m going to direct you to it so I don’t have to repeat what she said. Go and read it! And then I’ll muse on a few things that stood out to me about this novel.
One of the wonderful things about this series is how physical it is. For a highly-educated bluestocking immersed in the abstract worlds of theology, language, and mathematics, Russell is alive to the world around her. She describes people on a Japanese train, or the sharp taste of rice and pickle, or a blooming cherry tree, or the feel of being scrubbed for a boiling-hot bath, or the sudden shock of waking from a nightmare, with equally vivid language. This book is beautiful and dramatic, and it has a good sense of comic timing as well. (I’m just going to say Bears! and leave it at that.) I love all the different settings the book has taken us to, and the evocation of 1920s Japan was delicate and complex.
Another thing King does well consistently throughout the series, and again in this book, is to show us Russell and Holmes’s partnership. Their talents are different enough to be wide-ranging and complementary (and not without occasional friction), but similar enough to be mutually comprehensible and utterly trustworthy. In Japan, a country neither has previously visited, Russell and Holmes are on equal footing: they work together with language, disguise, detection, and the acquisition of a new set of skills. I particularly liked the resigned way they played their parts for the alleged blackmailer: Russell the flapper, and Holmes the much-older, stuffy husband. It’s enormous fun to read.
As Teresa points out in her review, this book doesn’t reach the heights of the very best of the series. The characterization of minor characters isn’t great — Miss Pigeon, Russell’s next-door-neighbor and helper, is made to sound intriguing, but we barely meet her. And it is a bit more predictable than some of King’s other mysteries (though personally I never mind that; it’s how we get there, rather than the solution, that intrigues me.)
But to be honest, a solid, middle-tier book by Laurie King is still a great book. I grinned with pleasure, reading it. On April 5, her new book will come out — The Murder of Mary Russell — and you’d better believe I’m going to leap on it with glee.