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A Letter of Mary: A Mary Russell Novel Hardcover – January, 1997

4.2 out of 5 stars 177 customer reviews
Book 3 of 13 in the Mary Russell Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sherlock Holmes and his scholarly companion Mary Russell are caught up in an exciting mystery when an archaeologist leaves them with a treasured find, a papyrus supposedly written by Mary Magdalene. When the archaeoligist winds up dead and someone attempts to make off with the artifact, Holmes and Russel become embroiled in a rollicking story filled with political intrigue and highbrow sleuthing. The level of writing hasn't been higher in this Laurie King series.

From Publishers Weekly

King set a new paradigm for Holmesian scholarship with her inspired invention of a retired, still energetic Sherlock Holmes who trained young Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994) and then embraced her as a professional partner and wife (A Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1995). This third in the series, set in 1923, involves the suspicious death of Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archeologist recently returned from Palestine, who gave Mary, an academic theologian, a letter dated about A.D. 70 written by "Mariam the Apostle" to her sister in Magdala. Mary Magdalene? An Apostle? Holmes and "Mrs. Sherlock," as Lord Peter Wimsey addresses her in a funny cameo, collaborate. Red herrings define the political and cultural climate: a retired colonel's opposition to women's suffrage; Dorothy's interest in Zionism; the British Near East scholar/spy network; the tumultuously upsetting implications of the letter for organized Christianity. The investigation also includes the Ruskin family. King's achievement is her depiction of the complex relationship between two individualists. Almost 40 years apart, they're fondly indulgent of one another's idiosyncrasies and share intellectual camaraderie, companionable humor and sexual attraction. While Sherlock delivers ongoing tutelage in arcane clue analysis, Mary hypnotizes a witness to prod her memory. If you can't imagine the misogynist Sherlock Holmes sharing domestic bliss, this novel will make you a believer. Major ad/promo; author tour; paperback rights: Bantam; audio rights: Durkin Hayes and Recorded Books.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (January 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312146701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312146702
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #528,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
"A Letter Of Mary" is the third instalment of Laurie King's Mary Russell series and by far the strongest yet. For those not au fait with the background, these novels take place in the early decades of the 20th century and feature an officially-retired Sherlock Holmes and his much younger wife (yes, wife) Mary Russell. Russell is also a feminist and has a talent for theology, two factors which often have bearing on the cases the pair investigates.
Here, Holmes and Russell are visited by an archaeologist acquaintance who leaves them with a letter written by a certain Mary of Magdala to her sister. Russell identifies this author as the Biblical Mary Magdalene, and when the letter describes Mary as "an apostle of Jesus", Russell's theological and feminist instincts are both piqued. The archaeologist, Dorothy Ruskin, dies shortly thereafter and our heroes are quick to investigate.
By this point in the series, it is clear that King's development of the Russell character is prepared once again to take a backseat to the plot and the intellectual repartee between the two investigators. Where "Letter"'s predecessor, "A Monstrous Regiment Of Women" features long passages discussing feminism, "Letter" does not and is much better for it.
The repartee itself is positively sparkling here. One prime example feaures Holmes and Russell discussing the exigencies of their particular disguises, Russell makes a statement which reminds Holmes of the convoluted grammar of French translation and the two of them continue in this vein for some time. Likewise, Holmes' segue later on into a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado" is so well placed as to leave the reader wondering what on earth it comes from - while answering that same question just after it becomes unbearable not to know.
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By A Customer on February 23, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have to agree with some of the other reviewers -- this book does not hang together well. The actual writing is good and keeps the reader going, but the plot is much too thin and the increasingly annoying digressions into theology only detract from what little plot there is. The entire middle section of the book is taken up with a strange episode where Russell plays secretary to one of the (very marginal) suspects. It all turns out for naught when the actual criminals are discovered to have nothing whatsoever to do with Russell's stakeout. I have to ask, why waste all those chapters? A red herring or just an opportunity to hightlight Russell's seductive techniques? What I call it is a waste of words. The denuement itself is very disappointing and is never made entirely clear -- unlike in the origional Holmes' stories. I liked "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" but "A Monstrous Regiment of Women" was not nearly as well written. I had hoped that this book, the third in the series, had gone up in quality. Unfortunately, it has not. It continues the very irritating attempts at a "surprise ending" which, in "Monstrous....Women" flopped so very badly. This book goes even further and you discover, at the end, that the villains aren't even "name-brand" or, at least, worthy opponents, the motive is almost non-existent and the crime itself unimportant. There is absolutely no attempt to use the supposedly authentic Mary Magdalene letter for anything -- it wasn't even part of the crime -- so why make it the title of the book? Or, for that matter, why even mention it -- other than for the obvious reason that it gives the author a chance to detour off into religious arguments yet again?Read more ›
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
It is the summer of 1923. England is recovering from the First World War, and the Second is not yet on the horizon. Russell and husband Holmes are busy with their various pursuits in the quiet Sussex countryside when an old friend's afternoon visit and subsequent murder get them embroiled in a mystery with lots of red herrings. Mary and Sherlock, assisted by Inspector LetradeJr., Mycroft and Billy of the Baker Street Irregulars, go undercover to investigate suspects. Again, as in earlier instalments, interactions and dialogues between Russell and Holmes are the high points of the book, so their working separately unfortunately limits their time together.

King writes about Holmes in love so delightfully and so plausibly. It's wonderful to think of him having this charming and affectionate relationship with a strong and intelligent woman. Who'd have thought Holmes would become the romantic hero of the 21st century? King has also created a terrific heroine in Mary Russell, with wit and intelligence shining through her turbulent adolescence, her blossoming young adulthood, and now her early marriage and academic career. I look forward to further books in the series, and hope there will be children!

If you demand an intriguing and difficult mystery, you will probably not be satisfied, but if you are a Holmes fan with a heart, you should enjoy this third book in the Mary Russell series.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
None of the books I have read by Laurie King have been nearly as good as her very first in the Sherlock series, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice." This particular book spends far too much time running the main characters up and down false leads and then the murder mystery is suddenly solved by a twist in circumstances the reader could not have foreseen. It's like have a magical mystery fairy fly in in the last few pages to tell the reader what he/she could never have discovered alone.
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