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A Monstrous Regiment of Women: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes (A Mary Russell Mystery) Paperback – October 2, 2007
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“The great marvel of King's series is that she's managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes's character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind and as well as his heart. . . . Superb.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“As audacious as it is entertaining and moving . . . What gives Laurie R. King's books such a rich and original texture is the character of Mary--totally believable in her own right, a tall and gangling orphan with a restless intellect and a great store of moral and physical courage.” ―Chicago Tribune
“Mary Russell makes a triumphant return. . . . Thoroughly enjoyable.” ―Booklist
“Extraordinary . . . A delight.” ―The Washington Times
From the Inside Flap
The dawn of 1921 finds Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes's brilliant young apprentice, about to come into a considerable inheritance. Nevertheless, she still enjoys her nighttime prowls in disguise through London's grimy streets, where one night she encounters an old friend, now a charity worker among the poor. Veronica
Beaconsfield introduces Russell to the New Temple of God, led by the enigmatic, electrifying Margery Childe. Part suffragette, part mystic, she lives quite well for a woman of God from supposedly humble origins.
Despite herself, Russell is drawn ever deeper into Childe's circle. When Veronica has a near-fatal accident-and turns out to be the fourth bluestocking in the group to meet with misadventure after changing her will-Russell and Holmes launch a quiet investigation. But the Temple may bring the newly rich Russell far closer to heaven than she would like....
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In this book King looses her sense of pacing as she lingers on themes of drug addiction, women's rights and religion, as Russel is introduced to a young, charismatic and influential female preacher. We are set to wonder if the preacher is a valiant defender of women, or a clever and murderous villain. Unfortunately Holmes is largely absent in this book, and when he is there he is, to a certain extent, Russel's lackey and romantic obsession, in spite of their near 40 year age difference. As to the romance, I say, "Blech." I'm not happy or comfortable in the transition of Holmes from mentor/father figure to romantic interest. It creeps me out in the real world and in this fictional one, too. But, as much as that romance failed to engage me there was a much bigger issue for me in the end.
In the Sherlock Holmes stories Holmes solves mysteries through brilliantly obsessive reason and investigation, resulting in natural explanations even in the cases where the events initially seemed to have a supernatural origins, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles. King decides to toss that detective novel tradition to the curb, and arbitrarily replace it with the option of miracles and "God did it." If King decided to expand her milieu to Agatha Christie stories she might well have the Ten Little Indians turn out to have been smote by God. Please don't misunderstand me, though, I like supernatural stories. I read a lot of them, including ones about supernatural detectives. But those fit into specific genres, genres that are distinctly outside of the Sherlock Holmes universe.
King knows she's going far afield in the Holmes universe with her romance between Russel and Holmes, and with her "god did it" answer to a locked room mystery. Whereas in the first book she brilliantly wove Russel and Holmes together in a way that made Holmes newly come alive yet was still consistent with the classic character, in this book she tears all of that down. To try to set up the foundation for this jarring mess she has the characters talk out the problems. For the "God did it" mess, she awkwardly invokes the classic case of Arthur Conan Doyle credulously falling for the Cottingley Fairies hoax, where some little girls posed in photos with drawings cut out from a book of fairies (Doyle co-exists with Holmes in King's universe). King has Holmes angrily reacting to news of Doyle's gullibility, as if King is saying, yes, supernatural fairies, now those would be ridiculous in a Holmes story, but setting up a contrast for Russel, who's' character is supposed to be a bible scholar as well as at least nominally Jewish, to witness a live miracle and conclusively determine that what she saw, as confirmed by another character, really was an actual miracle by God.
I can't tell why Russel insists on inserting a romance with a father figure, or why she insists on inserting supernatural explanations into the Holmes universe. It is a clearly calculated move on her part, but it guts the standard for a detective novel. By all means, insert some interesting aspects of religion and biblical scholarship as story elements, as she did, but when she made "God did it" one of the answers to the mysteries in the book she ruined one of the fun parts about detective and mystery novels, trying to figure out who did it. When you add "God did it," "in the locked room," and "with a miracle" to the line up of suspects and possible methods there's really no point in trying to follow the plot and figure it out for yourself. So, as much as I liked the first book, I'm disappointed and I'm done with this series.
In an effort to distance herself from him a bit, Mary renews an Oxford friendship and finds herself drawn to the charismatic leader of a feminist church/society movement, intellectually and spiritually. A series of deaths attached to the society sends Mary and by proxy, Holmes himself into the investigation.
As with the first book (and the following books), Regiment is primarily about Mary. Finally at an age where she inherits her parents vast estate, she struggles with her newfound freedom, the burden of responsibility and starts to look at parts of herself and Holmes that she'd been able to avoid when she was a girl. Mary is exposed to the seamiest sides of London as she tries to balance depending on Holmes with wanting to do things her own way.
A lot has been made of the romance between Mary and Holmes - something the author could have avoided entirely if she'd have just not mentioned Mary's age. She's written as far, far older than her calendar years; it also wasn't that uncommon around the turn of the century to find a young woman married off to a much older man. I'm not a Sherlock Holmes purist, which enables more suspension of logic, but the romance is still sparingly written and is actually kind of sweet. If anything, a reader looking for passionate clinches and sex is not going to find it in these books; even compared to the tamest of today's romance novels, the scenes here are the mildest of mild.
The mystery itself is well-written and paced, with the exception of the middle section about the society which are a little dull. The clues, confrontations and eventual solving are interesting, the extra little details about London in the early 20's is fun to read. There's a long passage towards the ending where Mary falls into the hands of some criminals that I thought was particularly well done; it goes a long way towards the aging of Mary and towards her understanding of Holmes.
This was a really enjoyable and fast book to read. I recommend it for anyone who likes authors as diverse as Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth Peters, J.D. Robb and P.D. James. A Holmes purist would probably have some issues with Mary, but if you like the idea of a tough, intelligent and capable feminist solving crimes, then you'll enjoy these books.