The Mary Russell series of whodunnits – also featuring her husband, one older gentleman named Sherlock Holmes – is a joy to read.
Fun, ever so slightly irreverent, and good mysteries in their own right, regardless of the high profile husband and his famous friends.
This novel takes us to San Francisco, where the intrepid Mary Russell lived as a child, and where she lost her family in a car accident, of which she was the only survivor – a traumatic event that has shaped her life. All through the earlier Mary Russell books, we are aware of this trauma, of her recurring nightmares, her fears and her guilt at being the only one to survive.
The atmosphere of San Francisco during the killer earthquake at the dawn of the 20th century is captured in all its frightening intensity, and as Mary begins to investigate her past and her troubled memories of her childhood, we are drawn into a world of Chinatown, of Holmes’ Irregulars and lots of period details of the hedonistic 1920s in California.
We also meet Dashiell Hammett, who helps Holmes and Mary solve the mystery, in another of the author’s clever inter-twining of fact and fiction.
Or is it fiction and fiction?
The plot is perhaps a tad convoluted, and there are many coincidences and meetings with people who have extraordinarily long memories, but when the reader closes the final page, it is with happy satisfaction.
What is huge fun to the reader is the wealth of personal details scattered throughout the novel. We watch as the great Sherlock Holmes worries and frets over his young wife, as she battles her personal demons. You can feel the great detective falling ever more in love with Mary. But as the edges of Sherlock Holmes soften a little, the author is not above a little gentle mockery of her heroine’s husband.
In the closing pages of the book, as the threads of the mystery are coming together, Holmes says “Come, Russell – the game’s afoot !” to which Dashiell Hammet asks Mary “He actually says that?” obviously slightly incredulous.
Mary’s answer is delightful.
“Only to annoy me.”
Locked Rooms is published in paperback by Bantam Books and costs $6.99
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