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256 of 260 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved the first book in Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and have read every book in the series as soon as it was published. I was delighted from the start of the series when the young bluestocking, Mary Russell, met up with Sherlock Holmes. Their partnership was filled with erudite and witty repartee, and they traveled the world together sleuthing in ingenious disguises and using elaborate ruses to escape peril.

But then something strange happened. King began separating Holmes and Russell. When this trend began, the books would describe each of the partners' doings, which were bookended with scenes of them together. Later on, though, their time together became strictly limited and Mary's separate role was emphasized.

Pirate King takes this trend even further. In this book, Holmes is entirely absent for a good two-thirds of the book and the pair are together for very few pages. I would estimate that scenes of the two of them together total only about 20 pages or so out of more than 300 pages.

Mary is persuaded by Holmes and Inspector Lestrade to go undercover as a director's assistant with Fflytte Films as they head to Lisbon and Morocco to make a silent film about Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. "How can there be a silent film about an operetta?," I hear you ask. It turns out the project is about a film crew trying to make a film about The Pirates of Penzance. The play-within-a-play conceit becomes ever more elaborate, as Mary works with actors playing the parts of pirates, constables, British officers and coquettish daughters, and many of the actors turn out to be something other than what they seem.

Mary's task is to see what she can find out about Fflytte Films that might explain why crime seems to follow its films in ways related to the subject-matter of each film, and why the previous director's assistant disappeared before the crew left England for Portugal. A series of minor disasters besets the cast and crew in Lisbon, but real danger begins as their sailing ship approaches north Africa. In this third part of the book, Holmes has joined the cast incognito, as an actor playing the Major General, and he and Mary must rescue the party from grave danger. This third part of the book, which takes up a little over 70 pages, has all the derring-do, action and spirit that are lacking in the rest of the book. It is cleverly written in a way that I could imagine as a script for a silent film adventure story.

I'm puzzled why Laurie R. King has altered this series to de-emphasize the Russell/Holmes collaboration almost to the disappearing point. Having so much of the book devoted to Mary working alone forced it into an awkward first-person narrative that reads like a well-educated and earnest young businesswoman's travel diary. I wasn't particularly interested to read in detail about her dealings on behalf of and with the cast and crew, her seasickness, rehearsal travails and the like. (And I'll admit I was a little miffed by Mary's scornful attitude toward my beloved Gilbert & Sullivan.)

Though the book returned to the series' old form at the end, I couldn't help noticing that the subjects of Mary's investigation were mere afterthoughts in the resolution of the story. It made me wonder about the utility of so many of the previous pages detailing Mary's sleuthing.

Has Laurie R. King come to feel so restricted by the Russell/Holmes partnership that she separated them? Is the weight of Sherlock Holmes's legendary persona so burdensome that she wants to cut him loose? She's the creator and, of course, she's free to do that. But I'm one of those pesky fans who don't like to see a change in a series' winning formula.
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118 of 126 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 31, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Laurie King's Pirate King follows The God of the Hive: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes as the 11th story in the series begun by The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen/A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes (Mary Russell Novels).

The Pirate King of the title is a reference to the Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, a reference appropriate both in plot and motif. William S. Gilbert himself might have appreciated the ending, which mixes Gilbert's fairytale style with a mercantile Machiavellianism. It is much to her credit that Laurie King actually pulls it off. (Though some might disagree, the only part that seems implausible to me is the pace of those particular events.)

King's narrative is generally good and her descriptive skills a bit better. I found them actually moving in spots; others may disagree.

The story's weaknesses are the tangle of story layers necessary (a story about an adventure whilst filming a movie about the making of a play) and a certain formulaic feel to some of the Russell-Holmes scenes. One in particular has me wondering whether King lost touch with her characters or whether she is planning some future development. In my opinion, the best books in the series are the early ones that develop that relationship. At this point, it may be hard to sustain continued development, especially as King has castled Holmes queen-side, moving him well out of the reader's eye for most of the story.

Since the whole point of the series may have been to use Holmes as a launching-point for Russell, the stories may drift further and further from the Holmesian root. I think that a shame. I also think it a shame that Russell shadows Holmes so completely. The partnership of Russell and Holmes was a daring, outrageous stroke. It made the series in the beginning, and the forgetting of it may be the series's unmaking.
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98 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am a lifelong Holmesophile and recently read all the Mary Russell novels. I heave enjoyed them all and reread them many times. Not only do the novels continue and develop Holmes as an immensely intelligent and humane observer of the human condition, but each novel has an interesting underlying theme. Justice Hall reflects on the impact of the 14-18 war on the English psyche, Locked Room meditates on how to deal with childhood trauma, The Moor evokes the archetypal strangeness of a wild and remote landscape. With humor, wit and reasoning thrown in who could not enjoy such a multi-layer literary cake?

In Pirates, Ms King has abandoned all this and appears to have chosen to write a completely dumbed down novel. Holmes and Mary Russell have each lost 40 IQ points. The plot is a farce, in both senses. It is as if she decided to write a screenplay for a summer tentpole movie where any trace of thought, complex ideas or character development has to be carefully expunged to leave something understandable by a four year old. The transition from the earlier novels is so gross, and the author so intelligent, that one feels this must have been a decision rather just a tired author throwing out the next in a series to garner some cash.

In short, if you enjoyed the earlier Mary Russell novels save your dollars and don't buy this one.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have read all the previous books in this series and have loved them. I checked repeatedly for the next one and was delighted to discover PIRATE KING. I feel like it was written by a different person with another style and another tempo. i couldn't read it! I tried but quit about a third of the way in. i am wondering if ms. king let an apprentice write this one. I am very disappointed.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 1924 silent films are all the rage, the American film makers leading the way with Britain close on their heels. British director, Randolf Fflyte wants to make a film about pirates, specifically a movie based on the humorous opera Pirates of Penzance, only with a twist: "This is Pirate King; a film about a film about Pirates of Penzance." Fflyte wants to use real Pirates added to the actors, and it is to be filmed in Lisbon and Morocco where danger and dangerous people abound. Mary Russell gets involved when Sherlock tells her that Fflyte Films is being investigated because everywhere they film trouble follows, and also their last assistant's assistant is missing. Going undercover, Mary takes the women's place and is in charge of a group of young actresses, their mothers, and a billion other things that go into making a movie.

As much as I love Laurie King's novels, this book was tedious. It took everything I had to get through the first hundred pages, then it got exciting for a minute and then it slowed down again because of the amount of characters and information. Finally the last fourth of the book sprang to life and almost redeemed all the suffering through the beginning. They all can't be winners, but saying that, I just bought another one in the Mary Russell series that I'm excited to start reading. I received this advanced readers copy through the Amazon Vine program.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read all the previous Mary Russell books and enjoyed each one greatly. Laurie King has done a marvelous job capturing the original spirit of Holmes and then expanding what we might have expected of him. I therefore looked forward to this latest book for weeks and bought it the day of its release. What a disappointment! A story line that stretched the furthest reaches of credibility, characters that I just could not care less about and a plot that never went anywhere and certainly did not forward the overall development of the Mary Russell story.Sorry Laurie, but this one is a miss!
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This installment was not so much a mystery as the biography of an exhausted author who has forgotten what to do with the characters she created. While Laurie King's early Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes pairings were diverting, witty, and contained an actual mystery, this dull thud of a book seems to rely mainly on the presence of the word "pirate" to carry the action. Mary Russell has lost her quick intelligence, Sherlock plays so little a part as to be non-existent, and the slapdash plot is just a rush through inconsequential locations. One hopes that the joy of the earlier books is not lost, just lost behind the lure of selling out to the current pirate craze. Ms. King, please don't do vampires.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A low point in Laurie King's Mary Russell series as she tries her hand at farce for the eleventh novel. The setup is too clever for its own good, and too much in love with its own cleverness; the story is stuffed full of characters who are impossible to keep track of, much less care about; the story wanders aimlessly amid a gratuitous surfeit of over-researched information about ships and sailing. I kept slogging through this one knowing that Sherlock Holmes would eventually appear; when he does, it's too little too late. If it was King's intent to mirror the mood and structure of Gilbert and Sullivan, on whose opera "The Pirates of Penzance" this story is loosely based, then unfortunately she proves herself incapable of it.

One hopes for better next time... and that there is a next time. Some of these stories have been among the best Holmes pastiches written. Too bad this isn't one of them.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Count me as another longtime fan who was sorely disappointed. The plot was ridiculous and contrived, and the characters uninteresting and lifeless ... Sadly, this included Russell and Holmes. I don't know what happened to our beloved Mary and Sherlock. They are missing from this paint-by-numbers piece.

Please let the series die a dignified death rather than produce any more like this.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book; I even bought it on pre-order. But it's just not that interesting. There's not a lot of mystery available on a boat, and hardly any interaction between Russell and Holmes. It feels like Laurie R. King decided to do a mystery on a "Pirates of Penzance" theme and ran out of story before she had a full-length book. It's too bad, because I really loved the earlier books in the series.
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