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Pirate King (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes) Paperback – April 17, 2012
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. But rumors of criminal activities swirl around his popular movie studio. At the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell travels undercover to the set of Fflytte’s latest cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.
As the company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell senses ominous currents of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with many secrets, decks awash with budding romanceâand now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their outlaw leader. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.
Features Laurie R. King’s short story, Beekeepers for Beginners, previously available only as an eBook!
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In contrast to the 3 previous books (brilliant, epic, angst-ridden adrenaline rushes all) this seems to be the odd man out. Everyone has their individual taste, that's for certain. But a change of pace is good, and probably healthy for everyone involved. I rather think Holmes and Russell themselves appreciated the break.
Pirate King is a dizzying, madcap, rollicking, absurd adventure tale. It's also a thematic house of mirrors: a play within a play within a play... images on mirrors reflecting one another off into infinity. The Russell series has always flirted with crossing the fourth wall, and in this case, Russell and Holmes dance (literally) across several versions of that particular barrier.
Russell fans may not find that description particularly appealing, it is true. Fear not, dear readers. As a long-time fan of this series, I have a good idea what you really want to know:
1) This is NOT a Holmes-free story. I wouldn't even call it a Holmes-light story, though it is Russell's adventure. He reappears at the midpoint and sticks around until the end. His contributions are solid gold, and he's not wasted in any scene he's in (or within hearing range of). You'll cheer at his entrance, marvel at his cleverness, and if you're so inclined, admire his particular brand of sex appeal.
2) Let's be honest, several books in this series are afflicted with what could be called a pacing problem. (I'm looking at you, The Moor.) While your mileage may vary, I felt the narrative chugs along quite merrily all the way through.
3) You do NOT have to be an aficionado of silent movies to enjoy this book. I wasn't, and I'm still not. Though as with many of King's dives into subjects I thought I'd never be interested in, I do have a greater appreciation for it.
4) Regarding Gilbert & Sullivan, see #3 above.
5) If you've ever found yourself wishing for more, er, romantic interplay between Russell and Holmes, do not discount this book. Hidden gems abound: lively banter, genuinely sweet moments, and romantic interludes that are loads of fun even if they're not quite what they seem.
So, if you've hesitated picking this one up, and any of this appeals to you, by all means, give Pirate King a try. Unless, of course, you're new to the series, in which case find The Beekeepers Apprentice and work your way up to this one.
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.