Book Nine of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is every bit as good as book one. Better, even. King has matured and honed her craft to an even sharper edge (pick up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and you won’t think it a possible feat, her writing already being top-notch.) As we open this latest installation we feel like we’re coming back to meet old friends as the return from a trip - they are literally returning from San Francisco via Japan - and we know their backstory and what to expect. And we like it.
Don’t worry, though. If this is your first foray into this series of unauthorized Holmes sequels, King gives you enough detail so that you’re not foundering. The unfamiliar reader would be able to read this one as a stand-alone novel, save for the need to read the next one.
On the cover, plain as day, this book brands itself as “a novel of suspense” and it doesn’t disappoint. From the inexplicable failure of one of Holmes’ beehives to the shadowy figure who appears on their porch asking for their help.The reader is grateful for the map in the opening of the book, because the adventure starts on the Southern Coast of England - in Sussex, where Russell and Holmes live - and takes us up to the northern tip of Scotland (in a hurricane, no less) with many, many stops in between.
We meet Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, again - perhaps his largest appearance in a single novel - and are also introduced more thoroughly to Sherlock’s sentimental side. Yes, it is told in the first person through the eyes of Mary Russell, but she would be no match for Sherlock Holmes if she were not brilliantly observant...and it helps that she becomes very emotionally involved in this particular case as well.
Because she is Laurie R. King, I have to say that I pick up her books merely based on her byline. I have never been disappointed. King falls into that category that only a handful of writers manage: “Books I Wish I’d Written”...or, on my more cynical writers-block filled days: “Stop Now Because You Will Never Be This Good.” Luckily, those days are few and far between and instead she is inspiration. Even if you’re not a writer, I have a feeling that you’ll find inspiration.
Ok - I don’t generally like spoilers, but I want to call attention to a particularly timely scene...so if you don’t want even the hint of a spoiler, stop reading now and go get this book. Otherwise:
There is a scene where Mary has apprehended a suspect...at the very least he is a man who has information that she very badly needs. So she trusses him up and threatens to leave him for dead. The setting is one in which not even the reader is positive she won’t. Yes, we all know that she would call to let someone know his whereabouts, but we can’t be sure she’ll do it in a very timely manner. Under the tenets set out by the Geneva Convention - what she does to extract information could be termed “torture.” Given the situation, I was completely on board. I rooted for her. Granted, what she did wasn’t appalling by any means, but her suspect was terrified and genuinely afraid for his life. Emotional/Mental torture, then. Granted, it is a work of fiction. And we all give fiction a lot of leeway because it’s made-up. But her situation is one that even the most mundane woman could find herself in. And if that woman were me...let’s just say I was taking notes. So go and read, and then come back and tell me what you thought. I have feeling it won’t be a debate, though...which makes me wonder about what anyone would do when pushed far enough.
That being said: READ THIS BOOK.
Book Three in what used to be called the Mainely Murder series and is not the Home Repair is Homicide (much better, in my opinion) opens with...not a murder. A bar fight. It happens off-screen, as it were, and requires the attention of Jacobia’s Love-To-Hate-Him ex-husband Victor.
The next morning there is the discovery of not one, but two murders in the quiet town of Eastport, Maine, and inconveniently right before their annual Salmon Festival. Also inconvenient is that Victor appears to be the murderer. So condemning is the evidence that the state police lock him up and proceed to build their case, which leaves Jacobia and her trusty crew to prove Victor’s innocence and get him out of jail. Even more inconvenient is that Jacobia has put up almost her entire fortune as seed money into a trauma-center venture that Victor is planning to build in Eastport.
As much as we love to hate Victor, we all realize that his presence in Eastport is good for Sam. Also we don’t want Jacobia to suddenly become very, very poor. So in this particular instance we’re rooting for her and Ellie a little more than usual.
The proximity of the Salmon Festival means that the town is packed with tourists - both of the Never- Been- To- Eastport- Before and the Grew- Up- And- Moved- Away- But- Came- Back- For- This- variety. When considering that the “big” murder victim as a known sociopath who grew up with Ellie and Wade (oh, don’t you just love Wade?) the door is wide-open for likely suspects.
So Jacobia is more determined than usual to track down the actual culprit...in between attempting to winterize her possibly haunted Handyman’s Special Historic House. (Don’t you just love the house?) Then Ellie gets sucked into Salmon Festival preparations and Sam and his best friend Tommy Daigle decide to learn Morse Code and use it - via a Ouija Board - to communicate with the dead who may or may not be inhabiting Jacobia and Sam’s house and who may or may not know who the real murderer is.
Which leaves Jacobia to her own devices, and the help of the local police force, which is great except that Bob Arnold is at the mercy of the State People (who are still building their case against Victor) and his wife is going to give birth at any minute. Just as we know she’s getting close (because there are deterrents) and we think we know (ok really we don’t, but maybe we have a clue) more people start dying and then it’s all just a bit much. And Jacobia is still about to lose her money.
I won’t tell you how it wraps up because that would be giving things away, and we all know how loathe I am to do that. But I am glad that I chose this for my summer series to read through. I’m already looking forward to the next installment. (I still don’t want to move to Maine though...and it’s not even winter, yet!)
I read this for the first time ten years ago, and because he’s one of my favorite authors and he has a book forthcoming called Generation A, I decided it was time to revisit this modern little gem.
The story, told from Andy’s perspective, revolves around three twenty-somethings who have abandoned their lives in the mainstream and set up in the desert of Palm Springs where they work “McJobs” (a phrase, if not coined by Coupland, then certainly made popular by him) and tell each other bedtime stories, sometimes in the middle of the day. They are minimalists who are floating untethered in the early 90s, a time when you were either a Yuppie devoid of any kind of personality, or you were leftover from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Andy, Dag, and Claire just can’t see themselves anywhere. What’s worse - they can’t see the future. Dag is obsessed with the threat of Nuclear Holocaust. Claire spends most of her time stuck in a Dead-Celebrity Obsessed funk, and all of Andy’s stories take place in Japan, where he spent time as a student.
Other people drift in and out, but they mainly serve as punch lines or cautionary tales. Andy’s little brother (who might be the protagonist in Shampoo Planet) dreams of working his way to Middle Management, but is right now still living at home because he hasn’t hit 25 and there’s no sense in leaving, yet. There are 5 other siblings that we never meet, but hear about briefly. They are equally cautionary - they “Boomerang” home to live with their parents on a startlingly regular basis.
The margins of the book are filled with cartoons and Urban Dictionary type definitions which serve to help conceptualize the zeitgeist of Andy’s world. At many points it is obvious to see where other people became inspired by Coupland’s opinions. Fight Club, for instance, while brilliant in its own right, appears to have lifted themes right from the pages of Generation X. Or maybe it’s because I was a young teenager when both books were released that I missed the universal cultural apathy that was happening. Perhaps everyone under the age of thirty Checked Out of the expected life in the early nineties.
They aren’t hopeless, though. Not at any point do these three characters stop having plans, obsessions, interests, and fun. They are just achingly self-aware and wittily critical about Life In General.
Coupland’s novels and characters have grown and evolved since this debut novel released eighteen years ago, and they are all worth reading. Start with this novel, though. So you have a jumping off place for all of the neurosis you will surely encounter as you make your way through his catalogue of cultural observation.