The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Cover of The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Cover of The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King.

The Murder of Mary Russell is the latest volume in Laurie R. King's long-running series set in the 1920s, featuring an older Sherlock Holmes and his young wife, and partner in detecting, Mary Russell.  I will not give away what the title means, but I will say that this is not a typical entry in the series.  It focuses on Holmes' housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, who has been like a second mother to Mary after her parents died in a car accident.

At the beginning of the book, Mary is confronted with a man calling himself Samuel Hudson, who claims to be Mrs. Hudson's son.  Mary had not known Mrs. Hudson had a son, although she had her suspicions.  The man demands to be shown Mrs. Hudson's personal papers, and pulls a gun on Mary.  Then, when Mrs. Hudson comes home from shopping, she finds blood on the floor and smells gunpowder in the air.  Mary Russell is missing.  What has happened to her?

The answer lies in Mrs. Hudson's past, and much of the book is devoted to the story of her childhood in Australia and Victorian London.  Clarissa Hudson is the daughter of a governess and a sailor turned petty criminal.  Her father's ship sinks on the way to Australia, and he is one of the few survivors.  Her mother commits a crime in order to be transported to Australia to join her husband.  She takes little Clarissa with her, and a second daughter is born there.  But after Clarissa's mother dies, her father falls back into his life of crime, and forces her to join him.  Clarissa becomes a con artist, distracting victims so her father can pick their pockets.  Later, her father takes her to London with him, leaving her sister behind in Sydney.  He becomes indebted to a crime boss, while Clarissa grows up and falls in love with a young aristocrat who abandons her.  How she first meets Holmes and becomes his housekeeper at 221B Baker Street will come as a surprise.

Since this is mostly Mrs. Hudson's story, it can stand alone, but I highly recommend that readers start with the first in the series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, which is one of my favorite mysteries.  I have to admit that a few of the later volumes in the series have been disappointing, but this is not one of them.

The Murder of Mary Russell is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library: as well as the Browsing Collection of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library: and the Recreational Reading Collection of the Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library: .

The Beekeeper's Apprentice is available from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library's Children's Literature Collection: .  It was not written as a children's book, but it can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults.