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The_House_of_SilkWhat’s the book about?

The House of Silk is a Conan-Doyle estate approved revival of the Great Detective by Antony Horowitz, told by an aged Dr Watson with Holmes himself gone. The tale has been withheld because of the nature of the crimes involved and the fact that their becoming public would “tear apart the entire fabric of society”, so he is writing them while he still can for release after he too is dead.

Why did I want to read it?

I have always tried to read at last one Holmes-related novel during August Crime Month – the man’s portrait is of course the header for the challenge (the post is here in case you missed it) and this sounded really interesting. I also like what I have read of Horowitz.

What did I think of it?

This is really very well done indeed, capturing the tone of the original stories with slightly more edge to suit modern tastes, being a little less circumspect about the nature of the criminal acts without being explicit, and showing that what we might consider a modern crime does of course have its roots in the way young people in poverty were treated in the past and how the status of certain individuals meant that even the most appalling things would be covered up through fear of at best loss of respect for their betters and at worst potential revolution. All the usual stalwarts are here – Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade and the Baker Street Irregulars – and of course Holmes gets himself into danger and shows of both his analytical skills and talent for disguise.  But definitely quid a bit darker than most Holmes-related fare.

The next in the series, Moriarty, comes out later this year (just in time for Christmas, in case anyone’s interested)

Scan 5Garment of Shadows is the twelfth (I think) and latest instalment in the chronicles of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, husband and wife sleuthing team. It follows on directly from the events of Pirate King which I talked about here.

The book opens with Russell waking up in a strange room in Morocco with amnesia from a head injury; snatches of memory come back to her in dribs and drabs and she is aware of a range of skills that are clearly second nature but she has no idea how she developed them. At the same time Holmes is hugely concerned that his wife has gone missing and sets off to search for her. All of this against the background of unrest and revolution in the country. Is it all connected?

Well, of course it’s all connected and we’d be disappointed if it wasn’t, especially as it turns out that the French governor is a distant cousin of Holmes. The book is full of intrigue and ambushes, captures and escapes, and figures from the past. The amnesia device could have been a cliché but is handled really well and the manner in which Russell regains her memories rings true. I’m also pleased to say ( and I don’t think this is a spoiler) that the separation from Holmes is not strung out for two long as (and I know I’ve said this before) I really believe that one of the strengths of this series is the relationship between the two and I love to see them working together.

As always the historical research is impeccable but it’s handled very lightly and I learned quite a few things I didn’t know before; the author’s note is very interesting in that respect.

A special treat was the novella included at the end of the book, previously only available electronically, which takes us back to events in the very first novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Another very enjoyable read.

I have said elsewhere how much I enjoy the Mary Russell series of books by Laurie R King so will not repeat myself unnecessarily here; pleased to say that Pirate King is no exception to that rule and was a lovely fun read after a run of dark and creepy novels.

This is the eleventh in the series and although it does refer back to previous adventures it does so in a non-spoilerish way so would be a good place to start if you have never read a Mary Russell novel before. It is certainly much more light-hearted in many ways than the others and gives a good insight into Mary’s character and her relationship to her famous husband Sherlock Holmes.

So, bit of plot. Mary is persuaded by the imminent arrival of her brother-in-law Mycroft (with whom she’s had a bit of a falling out) to take on the role of assistant to a film crew to investigate the disappearance of her predecessor (was it foul play or had she just had enough) and the distinct air of criminality which follows each of the company’s productions (gun running, drugs etc.) This leads to a trip to Lisbon and then Morocco in what turns out to be a bit of a romp (and that’s a word I normally avoid though it seems appropriate here).

This is huge fun. There are pirates and ingenues and megalomaniacal film directors and chaperones and secret agents and disguises and all manner of derring do set against the backdrop of a silent film production, in this case a film about the making of a film about The Pirates of Penzance. I love stories about early movie making (Bride of the Rat God (sadly out of print it seems) and Hollywood being two that spring to mind, though very different of course) and the technical problems and practicalities of making a movie in the 1920s really spring to life here without being heavy-handed, which has always been one of this author’s strengths for me.

And as much as I love Mary on her own it’s always better when Holmes himself gets involved; the dynamics of their relationship are one of the joys of the series, so I was very pleased whenever he turned up.

A very enjoyable read all round, and I can’t wait for the next one.

I considered listing this as an RIP read because there is mystery and peril galore but it was just too light-hearted to sit alongside my reading this for that challenge.

I have been very quiet on the blog recently, simply because I haven’t been reading that much, due to an increase in social activity (it’s that time of year, lots of cocktails, what can I say) and also because I have been distracted by my new toy, the iPad which I bought myself  as an early “didn’t I do well in 2010” present.

I have always been easily diverted by bright and shiny things.

So I will not reach my target of 52 books this year but will attack the same goal with renewed vigour in 2011. At least, that’s what I’m saying now.

And I will be helped by the bookish spoils received from the Book God and others this Christmas:

  • My Favourite Dress by Gity Monsef and others – a beautiful big fashion picture book, full of talented designers picking their favourite frocks, none of which I can ever afford or indeed hope to fit into…
  • 100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman – absolutely gorgeous book with wonderful examples of fashion illustration from Paul Iribe in 1908 to Kareem Illya in 2005. Has made me realise that I would have liked to have been a wealthy Edwardian
  • Britten & Brulightly by Hannah Berry – a graphic novel to add to the collection “There are murder mysteries and there are murder mysteries, but this is a noir where nothing is black and white” sayeth the blurb
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, in graphic form by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young – exactly what you might think, absolutely lovely and wished for solely because I liked the illustration of the Cowardly Lion on the cover….
  • Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King – it wouldn’t be Christmas without a new Stephen King purchase though in terms of reading I am about 5 books behind (not to mention the Dark Tower series (so let’s not and say we did))
  • Blow by Blow by Detmar Blow with Tom Sykes – the story of Isabella Blow, muse to Alexander McQueen – yet more high fashion
  • Paperboy by the lovely Christopher Fowler – won the first Green Carnation prize and looks like it will be brilliant – to be saved for the dead grey days of January
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver – a ghost story “Out of nowhere, for no reason, I was afraid”
  • Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet – I love books about books
  • The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley – another one of my favourite authors. “A boy, a mysterious guardian and a haunted house with a terrible secret”.
  • Gaslight Grimoire: fantastic tales of Sherlock Holmes – Fantastic tales. Sherlock Holmes. What’s not to like?
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore – shortlisted for the Orange Prize, don’tcha know. Audrey Niffenegger says its full of perfect sentences and that would be good enough for me even if I didn’t already like Lorrie Moore
  • The Existential Detective by Alice Thompson – on my wish list simply because I read about it at Lizzy’s Literary Life and it sounded right up my street
  • The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant – more fashion; “the thinking woman’s guide to our relationship with what we wear”
  • A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – WWI mystery novel
  • The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova – can it live up to The Historian? I hope so…
  • Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan – “Three strong women. Two feuding families. A singular story of enchantment…”

Not a bad haul, I have to admit. And there’s also The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble (a personal history with jigsaws) which I have already started.

The God of the Hive is the long-awaited (by me at least) sequel to The Language of Bees which I reviewed here last year. Having to wait 12 months to find out what happens next has been a tiny wee bit frustrating. But it has been worth the wait.

Again it’s difficult to talk about the plot of this novel because it runs on immediately from the events of its predecessor, and by that I mean within minutes of the end rather than weeks or months afterwards. And I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice to say that Sherlock and Russell are separated for much of the book, on the run, hiding from the powerful and menacing group who have killed several people already, trying to get to the bottom of what was going on.

So all I can say is that it’s pacy and exciting and all the great characters appear and some new ones are introduced and all the disguises and skulking about and action is all included, so thoroughly enjoyable and devoured in a couple of days. The only downside was that the Book God had read this first and kept on offering to give me pointers to the way the plot would develop in an annoying fashion which has been noted in the future. He won’t get the chance to do that to me next time.

So if you are already a fan of the Russell novels you will find a lot to enjoy here, but you really need to read The Language of Bees first as otherwise it just won’t make sense.

TheLanguageofBeesLaurie54241_fThe Language of Bees is the latest instalment in the tales of Mary Russell, wife to Sherlock Holmes, and starts off from the end of the last story (Locked Rooms) with Russell and Holmes arriving back to their home in Sussex to find one of the bee colonies deceased (if that’s what happens to hives) and a figure from Holmes’ past (and I’m not going to say who it is) looking for help. This starts a murder mystery which involves Mycroft (one of my favourite characters from the canon) and his extensive resources assisting Russell and Holmes in travelling up and down the UK to visit some of the most ancient sites in the country, seeking a dangerous and influential man. I think. It’s quite hard to write about this without giving away too much of the plot, which is something I really don’t want to do as the intricacies of the story is what makes the series so successful, alongside as the lead characters of course.

I will put my cards on the table and say that years ago, when King first started writing this series I was sceptical; I loved Sherlock Holmes and couldn’t see him ever getting married, especially to a much younger woman. But I picked up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and gave it a go, and was instantly hooked. The books are written with such affection for Holmes, Watson et al, Russell herself is a distinctive character, and the events of each (while often harking back on occasions to the past) are all set after Holmes has retired, so don’t really tinker with the mythology at all.

The only disappointment in relation to The Language of Bees is the phrase “to be continued” which appears at the end, and the knowledge that I have to wait untill sometime in 2010 to find out how this particular story develops.

Well worth reading, snatched out of my hands by the Book God as soon as I had finished it, and if you haven’t read any of the Russell stories, then you really should. Excellent.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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March 2023