When Did You Last Stumble on a New (Old) Writer?

Laura R. King

I coped into our local British Heart Foundation charity shop the other day and helped myself to a handful of books. When I say ‘helped myself’ I did actually pay for them. It’s amazing how cheap second hand books are, isn’t it? To be honest, I wanted some to read in the hot tub (get me…it’s for stress relief, honestly, almost medicinal) that I wouldn’t mind getting a bit damp. As ever, I picked up as many written by women as I could, hopeful of discovering a new author. My hopes were well and truly met. The first one I read was ‘A Monstrous Regiment of Women‘ by Laurie R King.

I had never heard of Laurie but was attracted by the title quote from that well known admirer of women in power, John Knox. (I am flexing my sarcastic muscle here as you can see in this extract about his anti female poem referring to the ‘monstrous women’.) John Knox has been a shadowy presence in my life since early childhood as his house on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh was always pointed out to me by my Dad on our regular visits to his home city.

John Knox’s house courtesy of Spectacular Edinburgh

However, the novel has little to do with Knox, happily, and is a crime mystery novel featuring Sherlock Holmes and his invented by King, female, highly intelligent assistant, Russell. Russell frequently asserts the rights of women and quite likes dressing up as a chap so is also very gender fluid and contemporary. It’s set in the 1920s and is penned by an American writer from San Francisco, a long way from the foggy London streets she graphically portrays. Here’s an extract about the author from her website:

Laurie R. King is the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area. She spent her childhood reading her way through libraries up and down the West Coast; her middle years raising children, renovating houses, traveling the world, and doing a BA and MA in theology.  King now lives a genteel life of crime, on California’s central coast.

Her crime novels are both serial and stand-alone. First in the hearts of most readers comes Mary Russell, who met the retired Sherlock Holmes in 1915 and became his apprentice, then his partner. Beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Russell and Holmes move through the Teens and Twenties in amiable discord, challenging each other to ever greater feats of detection. [The one I got hold of was the second book in this series.]

In the Russell & Holmes stories, King explores ideas—the roots of conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan; feminism and early Christianity; patriotism and individual responsibility—while also having a rousing good time.  Various stories revisit The Hound of the Baskervilles and Kipling’s Kim, set a pair of Bedouin nomads down in a grand country house in England, and offer an insider’s view of the great quake and fire of 1906, all the while forging an unlikely relationship between two remarkably similar individuals who happen to be separated by age, sex, and background.

To my surprise it was very good read. and I enjoyed it enormously. I love a good detective story although I must admit I think I have actually read only one Conan Doyle; most of my Holmes knowledge comes from the films and series featuring various luminaries like Basil Rathbone, Ian McKellan, Jeremy Brett, Michael Caine, and most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch. In this story he is in his late fifties and an object of attraction to Russell, which would probably have fans of  Rathbone speechless in disgust, (but not, I suspect, Cumberbatch devotees). All the way through I kept thinking how I would like to see this on the small screen; it would make an excellent series. Anyone out there listening?

My charity shop edition was published in 1995 but it obviously had a reprint in 2007, as you can see from the official website. Our protagonist, Russell, is a  highly educated woman, studying in theology at Oxford. This allows the author to veer off occasionally and instruct her reader in some arcane history like this extract below:

Beruria was not, strictly speaking, a rabbi, that title being reserved for men. She has, however, completed the customary rabbinic training, and she was accepted first as a student, then a teacher, and finally as an arbiter of rabbinic decisions…..There can be little doubt that her brilliant intellect, razor-hoard tongue, voluminous learning, an profound sense of God had been placed in amen’s body, the resultant figure would have rivalled *Akiva himself in stature. ……Her prominence eventually became too much for the sages who followed her, and a thousand years after her death, her memory was fouled by the medieval scholar Rashi, when he attached to her a scurrilous story of sexual misconduct [sounds familiar, eh?]

*Akiva, leading Jewish scholar of end of first and beginning of 2nd century.

I also discovered that Russell has her own Twitter account as she tweeted me! You can join her on @mary_russell.

Renew Yourself this Autumn

You can also join me, next month, near Bath on my one day RenewYou course. If you’re feeling in need of a boost, be it about career or personal issues, you’ll love this day. It’s designed to do just that and you’ll leave with a new spring in your step. As ever, if you can’t get your work to pay for it, I accept payment in two drafts if it helps. Read more about it here.

Changing People licences experienced trainers, coaches and organisations to deliver its International RenewYou programme for women. Read more about it here

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Posted on September 2nd, 2019 by

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