I have yet to encounter a Mary Russell book I didn’t greatly enjoy, and this was no exception.
Summary via Goodreads:
Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, comprise one of today’s most acclaimed mystery series. Now, in their newest and most thrilling adventure, the couple is separated by a shocking circumstance in a perilous part of the world, each racing against time to prevent an explosive catastrophe that could clothe them both in shrouds.
In a strange room in Morocco, Mary Russell is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. Out in the hivelike streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper containing a mysterious Arabic phrase. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north.
Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled by two old friends and a distant relation into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt led by Emir Abd el-Krim—who may be a Robin Hood or a power mad tribesman. The shadows of war are drawing over the ancient city of Fez, and Holmes badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he’s learned, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.
It’s a return to a style from earlier in the series, after some highly successful ventures into other styles, inluding a comedic approach with Pirate King and a political thriller in The God of the Hive. This is a straightforward exotic adventure, like O Jerusalem and The Game. Like those, it mixes politics and scary bad guys and traipsing off the beaten path. These aren’t my favorite books of the series, but I still enjoy them, as I did Garment of Shadows.
It explores a new exotic setting in Morocco, an area of the world I am unfamiliar with, far more than those in the previous novels. That was the biggest weakness of the book for me– it ties significantly into the politics of the time and place. These are explained in great detail, since the majority of readers won’t be familiar with the information, but I just never brought myself to actually care. I feel shallow in admitting that, but there you are.
I admit to being seriously concerned about the amnesia plot-line, but it actually worked quite well for me, giving a reason for information to be doled out slowly, and as an added bonus, giving some of the delicious tension between Russell and Holmes that was so present in the early books, but much less so as they’ve settled into marriage. She’s still herself even with no memories. It’s a good thing because she is why I read these books. She’s ahead of her time, but decidedly behind ours, is smart and only slightly short of superhero status in her skills, but very human in her personality. I’m guessing it isn’t a terribly realistic portrayal of post-head-wound behaviour, but I’m not letting that bother me.
If you are a fan of the series, this is a must read. If you haven’t read these books before, I wouldn’t pick this as a starting point, largely because of two recurring characters that appear here. I’m sure the book reads just fine without prior knowledge of the pair, Laurie R. King is far to skilled to have it be otherwise, but I think there is a layer of the character interaction that will be missing without knowing these two, and that would significantly dampen impact the book. So I say start elsewhere, they are all worth reading!
I received access to an electronic copy for review purpose, but I’ll be buying a hardcover copy when I have a chance to have it autographed, and will buy the audio version as well.