It continues to amaze me that Laurie King has managed to continue the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series for so long with such a consistently high quality. Maybe not every book has been spectacular, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. Just slightly less wonderful ones. Castle Shade, the 17th book in the series, is on the more wonderful side.
Immediately after their adventures in Riviera Gold, Holmes and Russell head to Transylvania to stay at Bran Castle, the legendary home of Dracula, although as Russell herself observes, it’s unlikely Bram Stoker had this castle in mind when he wrote his novel. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ghosts and vampires on the prowl. Russell and Holmes find evidence of both, as they investigate possible supernatural threats against Queen Marie of Roumania and her daughter Illeana.
One of the things I enjoy about this series is the way it mixes fact and fiction and pulls out lesser-known pieces of history and makes them the center of the story. I knew nothing about Queen Marie and her children, or about Bran Castle, and this was a fun introduction. And I’ve always been under the impression that King does her research (although she points out that any errors are Russell’s, since there are her memoirs, and she may have her reasons for obscuring certain facts).
Some of the recent books had Russell doing less actual investigating than I’d like, but between this and Riviera Gold, her detection skills seem to be coming back to the center of the story. I enjoy it less when Holmes is doing most of the work. Here, they both do their share, and she makes more progress than he does at actually solving the crime. So that’s satisfying. And, as usual, she gets into plenty of scrapes as she gathers clues and follows suspects.
For the last several books, there’s been an underlying thread regarding Mycroft Holmes and Russell’s disapproval of his work and disinterest in having much of anything to do with him. In this book, both she and Holmes seem aware that the time may be becoming for a serious conversation about it. King has been pulling at that particular thread for years now, but I wonder if she’s hinting at a bigger confrontation in a future book. Whatever happens, I’m in to see it. This series has yet to fail me.