The Murder of Mary Russell
It all started with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I met a young Mary Russell, 15-years-old, living in Sussex Downs after the death of her American family, wandering about with her nose firmly in her book. That’s when Mary met Sherlock Holmes who was as smart, if not smarter, than she was, and I fell in love with Laurie R. King. Now, thirteen books and several novellas later, The Murder of Mary Russell has been added to my “finished reading” list, and I have feelings. Feelings about Russell, about Sherlock, and most especially about Mrs. Hudson.
The story begins with Russell inviting a man into their home, who claims to be Mrs. Hudson’s son. Mrs. Hudson has never been particularly forthcoming about her past (with good reason), but something about the man sets Russell on edge – an instinct that serves her well when she turns around to offer him tea and cake, and finds herself looking down the barrel of a revolver.
From there, we head back in time a bit, to meet Mrs. Hudson’s parents, and learn of her past. And then back to the future again to find out what’s going on with Russell. Back and forth, past and present, are all interwoven together to create the story of Mrs. Hudson’s family history exploding in Russell and Holmes’ faces.
In the present, we see Mrs. Hudson cleaning up a blood-soaked floor, and a frantic Holmes calling in favors and searching desperately for Russell. In the past, we follow Sally Hudson (who has to get herself arrested to make it work) cross oceans with her new baby to be with her husband, transported to Australia. We find out about Miss Clarissa Hudson, her relationship with her father, her childhood, and her sister. And finally we meet Mrs. Clara Hudson, Clarissa reborn into the life of one Sherlock Holmes. It’s a fascinating journey.
The thing is, The Murder of Mary Russell isn’t really about Russell or Sherlock at all. It involves them, sure, but the real story is the 50-year-old mystery of Clara Hudson. The first half of the book, because it’s bouncing around in time, is interesting, but drags a bit. The tension from Russell’s dilemma fades as you read about young Clarissa in Australia, and even more once you get to her London experiences. I loved hearing about Mrs. Hudson – she’s such a part of the Sherlock Holmes world that I’ve always wanted to know more about her – but the result is a book that feels like it doesn’t quite fit.
That being said, this entire series is just fabulous. Russell is someone who can keep up with Holmes (something he’s obviously not used to), and their work together, and apart, is an entertaining view of the consulting detective. I particularly enjoyed watching Holmes’ rather desperate attempts to find out what has happened to his wife. All too often, we see a vision of Sherlock Holmes that, while not emotionless, is not particularly demonstrative. Here he definitely proves how much he cares for Russell. And speaking of Russell, she is such a fabulous character! She’s intelligent, loyal, and daring. And her relationship with Mrs. Hudson is deep and heartfelt.
As for the main character of this particular jaunt, Mrs. Hudson, I think I love her even more now. She’s definitely a survivor, with an interesting background, and, one hopes, a marvelous future. Plus, you know, this time she gets to be the star instead of the supporting character.
If you’re interested, though, I’d definitely start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and the meeting of Russell and Holmes. As interesting as Mrs. Hudson was, I missed reading about Holmes being, well, Sherlock Holmes, and Mary Russell providing both clues and commentary.