Reviewing such an exciting, action-packed novel as “O Jerusalem”, the second (chronologically speaking) in the Mary Russell series, the period detail is such that one wants to use words like derring-do and possibly even swashbuckling, to describe the utterly delightful young heroine.
In this story, Mary Russell is only 19, but she is wise beyond her years (we know precious little about her private life at this point), fearsomely clever, courageous, gutsy (in modern-day parlance), and a tad cheeky towards her mentor, the great Sherlock Holmes.
To escape problems in London, they escape to Palestine in the turbulent days at the end of the First World War, amid the violent jockeying for political position between the colonial British, the Turks, the local Arabs, the Jews – and plunge headlong into a series of dramatic adventures. Nay, even rollicking adventures, with definitely a touch of derring-do.
They are accompanied throughout by 2 delightful spies, the quick-tempered, often grumpy Ali and the easier-going, more introspective Mahmoud. Disguised as Arabs, our heroine and her partner in crime, Sherlock Holmes, endure privation, hard work, being shot at, being kidnapped – all of which the bespectacled Mary takes in her cheerful stride.
Only she is not Mary nor is she bespectacled for most of the story. She is disguised as Amir, a young Arab boy, and she has to forgo her glasses as they would be out of character, so she wanders round in a slight blur for much of the book, learning to answer to the masculine forms of address.
One of the author’s delightful touches is to introduce real live historical figures into the story, this time the charismatic and hugely likeable General Allenby, who is one of the very few people in the book to know that the perpetually filthy, unwashed Amir is in fact a blonde-haired teenage Oxford undergraduate.
The last line of the book is an absolute gem.
Another page-turner from the talented Ms King, crammed with historical detail and colour and adventure. The author wears her scholarship lightly, and is a pleasure to read.
Published by Bantam in 1999, the paperback costs $6.99.
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