O joy – a Laurie R. King sighting!

October 15, 2008 at 11:17 pm (books, Bouchercon 2008, Mystery fiction)

From time to time at Bouchercon, my whole being would light up as I recognized a long admired author – “There’s ____ in the flesh!” The first time it happened was when we walked into the room where the “Living in the Past” panel was to be held. And by golly, there at the front of the room was Laurie R. King.

Laurie King is the author of two novels that I cherish: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and A Monstrous Regiment of Women. (The title of the latter comes from a treatise by John Knox, published in 1558.) They’re the first two entries in her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. I still recall vividly the opening scene in Beekeeper, in which a disconsolate Mary, wandering the Sussex Downs, nearly trips over The Great Detective, who is crouched in the shrubbery observing the activities of a swarm of  bees. From that moment, King had me in her writerly  thrall. I could not wait to see what fate awaited the awkward, bookish adolescent and the celebrated, if highly eccentric, sleuth. The arc of the plot that begins in Beekeeper and culminates in Regiment is a masterpiece of artful, yet seemingly artless, storytelling.

(I wrote, albeit briefly, about these two titles in a post I did a while back on love stories.)

I have to say that I struggled through the third book, A Letter of Mary. If memory serves, the story was good and the writing was excellent – I expect no less from this author – but the novel lacked the high drama of the first two series entries.

At that point, I basically “went off” this series, but in 2005, when Locked Rooms came out, I was sufficiently intrigued by the reviews to jump back in. I really enjoyed this novel! Laurie King can be very cunning, and the way she wove a famous writer of the period into this tale was cunning indeed, and deeply satisfying – at least, to this reader. I remember having one reservation, though. It had to do with the relationship between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I am well aware that theirs is a marriage of true minds, but I would like to have seen some  genuine display of affection between these two admittedly cerebral individuals.

I was somewhat surprised when I looked King up on Stop! You’re Killing Me and found that Locked Rooms is the most recent in the ongoing saga of Russell and Holmes. King has published a standalone in the meantime, Touchstone, which I have not yet read. She also has a contemporary series featuring Kate Martinelli, a policewoman in San Francisco. The first book in that series, A Grave Talent, came out in 1993, a year prior to The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. It garnered several awards and nominations, but I was not able to get through it. I did enjoy the sequel, To Play the Fool. The fifth book in the series, The Art of Detection, came out in 2006. IMHO, these books, while engaging and well written, do not have the magic of the Mary Russell novels.

And that brings us to the question: what’s next for Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes? Well, it turns out that Laurie has recently completed the ninth entry in the series, The Language of Bees, due out in the spring of next year. (You can learn more about this project from the author on her blog.)

At any rate, with her magisterial bearing, keen intellect,  and ready wit, Laurie King was an ideal choice to moderate “Living in the Past” – about which, more coming, and soon!


  1. Alice Wright said,

    Wasn’t B’Con amazing? I was there with a group of 12 people who make up fans of Laurie R. King, some are members of her Virtual Book Club and others belong to the Letters Of Mary Fan fiction site where writers and those who love to read about Russell and Holmes come together to fill in the blanks in the eight (soon to be nine) books we refer to as The Kanon. We have a huge archive of excellent Russell/Holmes fan fiction and welcome all points of view.

  2. “Living in the Past” (song by Jethro Tull): Getting the research right « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] moderator, Laurie R. King, kicked things off with the famous opening lines of L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between: “The […]

  3. Gail Kleine said,

    Any more Kate Martinelli books in the works? I have enjoyed those and miss them.

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