Monday, May 25, 2015

With Secrets and Revelation: DREAMING SPIES, Laurie R. King

If you're a Laurie R. King fan -- and I am -- you probably had DREAMING SPIES on your list earlier this year, and purchased it soon after its release in mid February. I did, too, but I knew there was no rush to review it, so I tucked it away to enjoy later.

So, a few reasons to read (and collect) this 13th "novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes":

* For anyone who's followed Laurie R. King's writing, from the Kate Martinelli (San Francisco) homicide series to the eerie and compelling Stuyvesant & Grey books to the very popular Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes sequence, reading DREAMING SPIES is the best way to discover which direction King's creativity has taken this time, and how she's tying together her many interests. Plus, is her storytelling changing with time? My own answer to this: Yes, she's separating the thread of violent crime from the thread of puzzle solving. Although her 2006 release, The Art of Detection, was a deliberate (and entertaining) effort to tie the Martinelli series to the Russell/Holmes books, it left out some of the dark threat of the early Martinelli books. That darkness now prowls in the Stuyvesant & Gray books instead (so far, just two of them: Touchstone in 2007 and The Bones of Paris in 2013).

* Holmes fans who are not deadly serious in their passions can enjoy the notion of Holmes as a much older man, married to his young student Mary Russell -- and in DREAMING SPIES, Russell asserts her equality to Holmes in terms of deftness with disguise, quick planning, even martial arts. In fact, the premise of the story, which takes the pair into Japan in 1924 to assist a ninja (or more than one ninja!) and other politically significant Japanese figures, is that neither Russell nor Holmes speaks Japanese or has expertise in the "customs of the country." Hence their decision to explore, and then assist, puts them on a level playing field. Actually that means Russell will dominate a bit more than usual, since she's younger and by gender better adapted to the schemes involved this time.

*King is such a good storyteller that this, like her earlier books, is an entertaining diversion with page-turner appeal. She's also a top-notch researcher, so don't let the unexpected appearance of, say, a woman who is a ninja turn up any doubts: Sure enough, there's history to back the concept, with an early Japanese woman becoming an espionage-oriented ninja in the 16th century, running her own network. Russell is a bit too much of a loner to adapt to a network, but she's not going to let a spy who's younger than herself take over the scene! (Or is she?)

*If you've been reading any of the half dozen intriguing series of English mysteries racing into print on the World War I years and the years between the wars -- or even James Benn's World War II series with Billy Boyle -- this 1924/1925 setup will enhance what you're already consuming, adding details of Europe, the United States, and Asia, particularly Japan. It's a time-honored way to enjoy adding history to your plate.

These Russell/Holmes books don't feel like the original Sherlock Holmes tales -- they leave a very different taste in the mind -- and that's the drawback to reading them. The depressed genius of the Conan Doyle character wouldn't balance all that well with Russell's animation and enthusiasms, I think. So, as with the earlier books in the series, enter lightly, for the fun of it. (My one regret for DREAMING SPIES was the near-absence of Holmes's usual remarkable insights ... and with it, I thought, a bit less insight on Russell's part, too. But perhaps they were both overwhelmed with learning that new language, and all that comes with it.)

Best of all, I came away from the book relaxed, taking joy in the twists and resolution of the story, and more attentive to the history and cultures on display. Fun! I recommend reading it -- provided the "reasons" above fit your state of mind as you open the book.

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