Friday, May 13, 2016

Mary is not really a beekeeper...

(On the Segregation of the Queen)
I had just read this first book in King's Russell and Holmes
series when I met her on April 15th at the 
in Indianapolis.  
There are times when I have trouble imagining exactly
how an author conjures up a particular character or 
story arc, and I especially felt this about Mary Russell. 
How? How did Laurie King ever imagine a 'Mary Russell'?
When asked, King told me that 
"sometimes you keep playing with characters, 
you imagine them this way or that way, 
but sometimes, a character just comes to you, 
and that's it." 
And that is exactly how Mary Russell came to King...
all at once, 'just like that'!
Amazing! How does one get so very lucky?
Or how did King put herself in that place to imagine Mary?
Talk about fortuitous! And so enjoyable for us readers!

I now own a signed and personally inscribed copy of the 14th and most recent release in this series, The Murder of Mary Russell, and am determined to purchase all the other books in this series. I loved this first installment so very much I can only imagine these get better as you go! And I know the characters develop and change, so I definitely must read them in sequence. I did virtually force my husband to read this first one and he loved it so much he isn't waiting, but has been checking them out of the library and buzzing through the series. (However, just in case, you're wondering, he is not allowed to speak to me at all about them except to note whether he liked them or not. NO SPOILERS!! I want to discover everything for myself.) :) Rarely are there books that we both really love reading, but this series is one of those. I will add it to Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series in that regard. As a side note, when I noted to Laurie King that Mary Russell reminded me a bit of Flavia, she asked if I'd ever met Alan Bradley, and when I said I had not, she encouraged me to do so if I ever had the opportunity. He is evidently a nice guy! :)

If you decide to read this one, by all means please be aware that you MUST read the Editor's Preface! :) No, really...I must insist! Mary Russell is definitely my kinda woman! She is walking through Sussex Downs with her nose in a book! I had to laugh when I read this. It reminded me of my grandmother becoming angry with me for walking through the house while reading a book. I guess she thought I would fall and break a bone or something! :) Though Mary's book was written in Latin. Please note: none of mine were written in Latin, mainly because I would have never been able to read them! :)
As it was, my first awareness that there was another soul in the universe was when a male throat cleared itself loudly not four feet from me. The Latin text flew into the air, 
followed closely by an Anglo-Saxon oath. Heart pounding, I hastily pulled together what dignity 
I could and glared down through my spectacles at this figure hunched up at my feet: 
a gaunt, greying man in his fifties wearing a cloth cap, ancient tweed greatcoat, and decent shoes, with a threadbare army rucksack on the ground beside him. A tramp perhaps, who had left the rest of his possessions stashed beneath a bush. Or an eccentric. Certainly no shepherd. (5-6)
This description made me chuckle. Sherlock Holmes mistaken for a tramp? Phshaw! Though an eccentric? Yes, perhaps. And agreed. Not a shepherd. 

As they talk, she gives him her impressions:
"...I suspect that someone such as yourself would find it impossible to have an other than 
all-inclusive relationship with a woman, one that totally integrated all parts of your lives, 
unlike the unequal and somewhat whimsical partnership you have had with Dr. Watson." (21)

"I am now fifty-four. Conan Doyle and his accomplices at The Strand thought to make me more dignified by exaggerating my age. Youth does not inspire confidence, in life or in stories, 
as I found to my annoyance when I set up residence in Baker Street.
I was not yet twenty-one, and at first found the cases few and far between. 
Incidentally, I hope you do not make a habit of guessing. Guessing is a weakness brought on by indolence and should never be confused with intuition." (21) 
Not exactly a personable fellow, is he? He certainly says exactly what he thinks! No social filter here! :)

It turns out that Mary has a rather contentious relationship with her aunt who serves as her guardian, but once Mary had traced the woman's bank account, that basically squelched the possibility of her truly sabotaging any of Mary's plans, actions, or behaviors. I tell you what. I am rather glad Mary wasn't my child! I see that she could be 'a handful,' as they say! :) 
Three months after my fifteenth birthday Sherlock Holmes entered my life, to become my foremost friend, tutor, substitute father, and eventually confidant. (29)

In those first few weeks of spring I was like some tropical seed upon which was poured water and warmth. I blossomed, my body under the care of Mrs. Hudson and my mind under the care of this odd man, who had left behind the thrill of the chase in London and come to the quietest of country homes to raise bees, write his books, and, perhaps, to meet me. I do not know what fates put us less than ten miles from each other. I do know that I have never, in all my travels, met a mind like Holmes. 
Nor has he, he says, met my equal. (29)
Mary's aunt was not known for providing food, and Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' housekeeper, loved to feed people, hence, Mary's body was now well nourished. As was her mind...

Though Mary initially had little respect for Dr. Watson, after actually meeting and getting to know him, she admits to Holmes,
"I suppose you know I was prepared to hate him," I said finally.
"Oh yes." 
"I can see why you kept him near you. He's so...good, somehow. Naïve, yes, and
he doesn't seem terribly bright, but when I think of all the ugliness and evil and pain he's known... It's polished him, hasn't it? Purified him."
"Polished is a good image. Seeing myself reflected in Watson's eyes was useful when contemplating a case that was giving me problems. He taught me a great deal about how humans function, what drives them. He keeps me humble, does Watson." He caught my dubious look. 
"At any rate, as humble as I can be." (33)
Hah! Love that sly bit of humor. King has such humor sprinkled throughout and it greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the book. 

Mary was aware that several factors combined to make it possible for her to spend such long hours in Holmes' house: it was 1915 and wartime meant that social niceties of chaperonage were basically abandoned or, at best, weakly observed; her aunt cared little about Mary's actions or behaviors as long as they didn't impact her; her parents were dead; and perhaps most importantly, Mrs. Hudson's constant presence provided some semblance of propriety. This same circumstance of wartime loosening more rigid societal norms regarding relationships was depicted in 
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (In answer to your unspoken question, no, I have not yet finished re-reading it from last year...) and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (Yet more blog posts I need to finalize!). So war can be/is an impetus for psychosocial evolution in certain areas. While I consider such change to be freeing overall, I do not consider war to be good! 
...he tended to treat me more as a lad than as a girl and seemed in fact to solve any discomfort my sex might cause him by simply ignoring it: I was Russell, not some female, 
and if necessity required our spending time alone together, even spending the night without escort, then that is what we would do. First and foremost a pragmatist, 
he had no time for the interference of unnecessary standards. (35)
Does that mean the human species might actually evolve beyond the need for war? It is my fervent hope... Of course, World War I greatly decreased the number of young men in a society/culture, too. As Mary notes:
The Oxford University I came to in 1917 was a shadow of her normal,self-assured self, 
its population a tenth of that in 1914 before the war, 
a number lower even than in the years following the Black Death. (42)
That is a staggering amount of people gone...just gone...never to return. Of course, the college campuses would be greatly impacted, since most campus populations consisted mainly of younger white males, a few white females, and virtually few other, more diverse, students.

Mary remembering playing chess with Holmes:
...we played games without number under the hot sky. 
He no longer had to handicap himself severely in order to work for his victories. 
I still have that set, and when I open it I can smell the ghost of the hay 
that was being cut in a field below us, the day I beat him evenly for the first time. (41)
I'll just bet she remembers that! Mary returns from school and insists that Patrick, the farm's caretaker, allow her to help with some physical labor, to get back into shape, telling him, "if I don't get back to using my muscles, they'll forget how to function altogether." But she and Holmes continued playing chess, too...
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice the queen in order to save the game." (242)
This as Mary beats Holmes after returning from college, using a move her maths tutor had used to beat her.

Upon her arrival at Oxford, Mary is immediately recruited by "Ronnie" into the acting group and notes this left her with two unexpected legacies:
a coterie of lasting friends (Nothing binds like shared danger, however spurious.) and a distinct taste for the freedom that comes with assuming another's identity. (45)
The latter skill will come in handy during her "work" with Holmes. There are several "mysteries" in this first installment of the series. The first is a neighbor's suspicions regarding what she believes to be her husband's nefarious activities. The second involves a kidnapped 6-year-old child. And the third...well, it involves bombs...and disguises...and betrayal. 
I did not think of myself as a detective. I was a student of theology, 
and I was to spend my life in exploration, not of the darker crannies of human misbehaviour, 
but of the heights of human speculation concerning the nature of the Divine.
That the two were not unrelated did not occur to me for years. (34) 

A dream foreshadows some of their future challenges, as Mary remembers part of Holmes' book on beekeeping:
"A hive of bees should be viewed, not as a single species, but as a triumvirate of related types, mutually exclusive in function, but utterly and inextricably interdependent upon each other. 
A single bee separated from its sisters and brothers will die, even if given the ideal food and care. 
A single bee cannot survive apart from the hive." (167) 
That could most certainly be interpreted in many different ways...

Deciphering a code begins to break the case loose...
the decoded letters spell M-O-R-I-A-R-T-Y. 
But how could that be? 
He is most certainly dead...
by Holme's own hand,
isn't he? 

I can understand why this book was nominated for the Agatha Award in 1994!
I am planning to read the second book in the series this week! 
Have you read any historical mysteries?

No comments:

Post a Comment