Retelling the Sherlock Holmes stories with a new partner (female). Witty and clever

I am a bit of a late starting to blog this year owing to a nasty cold so I now have several books to catch up with.

My first book, and the first book I finished this year, is part of a series by Laurie R King. This author has imagined Sherlock Holmes having retired early (he is not yet sixty in this book) and living in retirement with his bees and Mrs Hudson to care for him in Sussex. Mary Russell is an intelligent young woman who lives locally under the care of an unfeeling aunt. She is working her way towards going to Oxford to take a degree in theology. She meets Holmes first in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and they build a partnership with her assisting on some of his cases. This book, A Monstrous Regiment, is the second book in the series.

I’ve read quite a few books that are extensions or retellings of the Holmes stories. Most recently these have included Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird and A Study in Crimson by Robert J Harris. These were perfectly readable but nowhere near as enjoyable as this series by Laurie R King. All these retellings have to make Holmes a more approachable figure and resolve the issue of exactly how intelligent Dr Watson is – I think that this series has got it exactly right without tarnishing the reputation of the original stories.

The title of this book harks back to the preacher John Knox who in the sixteenth century wrote a book beautifully entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. It was a book designed to put women in what he considered to be their place – in submission to men. In this story the author talks about the large numbers of women left without possibility of a partner after WW1 and how this has encouraged them to find outlets for their talents, creativity and energy. One of these outlets is to be part of a Christian cult led by a woman and doing great good in the poorer areas of London. Unfortunately, young women associated with the cult are being murdered and May sets out to find out who is doing it and why. This makes her a target for the murderer.

I enjoyed the first book in this series a lot but I think that I enjoyed this second book more. The author is good at the culture and history and she makes all the characters very real. Mary is at the centre of the book and she is bright, clever, witty and often naive. She does know what she wants though and is inherently sensible. During this book something really dreadful happens to her and the author portrays this, her reaction to it and the aftereffects very realistically in my view. The book also touches on theology and how we think of women which is an interesting aspect of the story. My only small issue with this series is that the author is American and just occasionally she uses the wrong term for something – it happens only rarely so it didn’t cause a huge problem for me.

I am heading off now to buy volume three in this series and find out what happens to Mary and Holmes next. If you think you might like this you could also look at the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Windspear which are set in the same era – you can read a review I wrote about them here.

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