The Murder of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King, is the fourteenth entry in the Russell and Holmes mysteries. I don’t usually write about series volumes because I don’t usually have anything to say other than a quick thumbs up/thumbs down. But, there are a few things I noticed while reading this book that I wanted to post about.
The first half of The Murder of Mary Russell is divided into two plot threads. First, Mary Russell is confronted at the Sussex home she shares with Sherlock Holmes by an armed and possibly disturbed man who claims to be Mrs. Hudson’s son. Mary’s chapters are short, dropping hints about what this man might want and making us worry about when (if) Mary might get murdered. In longer chapters in between Mary’s chapters, we get an entire history for Holmes’s long suffering landlady, Mrs. Hudson.
King’s Russell and Holmes series has always leaned on the canonical Holmes stories. Sometimes King will resurrect a villain or create a family member for one of Holmes’s old enemies. In The Murder of Mary Russell, King takes advantage of the fact that Mrs. Hudson shares the name with a villain Holmes tangled with early in his career. (She also makes jokes using oft-quoted phrases from the stories.) King’s backstory for Mrs. Hudson takes guts because she such a well-known, well-loved character. I’ve seen backstories done before, usually poorly, but this one works for me. I love Mrs. Hudson now.
All that said, The Murder of Mary Russell does illustrate how not to use the in medias res device. The long chapters for Mrs. Hudson’s history make all the wonderful tension from Mary’s chapters dissipate. The transition from flashback to plot present at the midway point is a bit clumsy. I can see what King was trying to accomplish, but the structure she used just didn’t work for me.