A Puzzle of Mary´s

The last book I read about Mary Russell ended with an engagement. One is curious to know, what kind of husband is Sherlock Holmes? I think Laurie R King was curious too, as she set out to write "A Letter of Mary". I think this novel is engineered towards an exploration of their relationship and the kind of people they have become, two years into their marriage. We find them at their home in Sussex, she working on her academic career and deeply buried in a theological dissertation, he making stinky experiments in his laboratory and being excessively bored.

A fine twist to their relationship´s dynamic is that there is a lot of projection going on, probably from both sides, but of course we only get Mary´s version of it. This started already in the second book, when Holmes first claimed that it was Mary who was thinking about marriage, when it was in fact he who... but in the end, she confessed to having had thoughts about it. Same now. Mary notices that Holmes is bored, after which he immediately expresses a worry that she is being bored. Are they both bored to begin with or are Holmes´ feelings and needs transfered to her and does she take responsibility for them? In every good, close relationship I think that is a kind of tango being danced this way sometimes and that way other times. King writes this dance of Russel and Holmes very well, very entertainingly.

There is, of course, a proper mystery in this novel, a case, as Holmes would say. An old acquaintance, a woman archeologist, comes for a visit and gives to Mary an old papyrus, a letter supposedly written by an apostle of Jesus, Mary of Magdala. A few days later they find out that she is dead and, indeed, murdered. They find two suspects and each go under cover to investigate.

Russell has, at 23, become a woman. She does not dress up as a boy any more, but rather uses her sexuality to lure her pray, a misogynist colonel, and actually quite falls for him in the process. Holmes, on the other hand, is pushing sixty and feels the weight of his years. While he is still as agile and strong as ever, he does not recover as quickly as he used to, and lengthy stake-outs take their toll. His favourite cover, the horse-cab driver, has become obsolete, and in spite of his dislike of cars, he has learned to pose convincingly as a car mechanic and even learned to drive (and park). (Privately however, Russell is still always at the steering-wheel.) More alarmingly, perhaps, he has begun to loose faith in the superiority of the logical and rational mind. 

King manages to create a strong sexual tension and emotional bond between the main characters with means of restraint. A story of Holmes´ hands becomes both a clue to solve the case, and a means to express sexuality. The only thing we find them doing in bed is talk of the case. Like here, when Russell has asked Holmes about his day:
- I have been reading my bible.
- I beg your pardon?
- Sorry, was my arm over your ear?
Very cute, isn´t it?

The famous Inkling meeting place.
We also see glimpses of a social life. Apparently the Holmes´ aren´t always living the quiet life in Sussex, because they are well known at London´s fancier restaurants and among the more intellectually inclined gentry. Russell also has time for a trip to Oxford, where she has a pint and a pie at The Eagle and Child in the company of a new acquaintance, a fellow by name of Tolkien. I am pleased to say that I have done exactly that myself last summer, sans Tolkien, of course.

All in all, a great read. Entertainment with plus value, since King writes so cleverly!

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