Garment of Shadows: A Novel of Suspense

Laurie R. King. Bantam, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-80799-8
Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes In the opening chapter of her new book, Garment of Shadows, Laurie R. King doesn’t identity her first-person narrator—for a very good reason. Her heroine suffers from amnesia and doesn’t know who she is (though readers will instantly recognize her as Mary Russell, young wife of the much older Sherlock Holmes, now a retired beekeeper in Sussex). King takes a risk by going for upwards of 30 pages essentially without dialogue. This could be a challenge in the hands of a less gifted writer, but King’s vivid prose and attention to detail draw us into Mary’s predicament, as she finds herself in Morocco, not knowing how she got there. Forced to piece together her own history through clues she discovers on her person as well as around her, Mary embarks upon an adventure involving spies and traitors that takes her and Sherlock to Morocco in 1924, during the height of the Rif revolt. King brings the city of Fez and its environs to life with her vivid portrayal of Arabic culture. Her grasp of the tenuous, prickly relations among Great Britain, France, and warring political factions in rapidly evolving Morocco is impressive. Some readers may find the chapters laying out the politics in extensive detail trying, while others may find them fascinating. King’s prose is sprinkled liberally with Arabic words and phrases, and while perhaps not be to everyone’s taste, they add to the color and richness of her narrative. The premise of the book, though original and intriguing, is somewhat problematic. Thrust into a complex political situation not of their own making, Mary and Sherlock remain in some essential way outside the emotional center of the story. King has to continually invent ways to draw her heroine deeper into the fray (this is definitely Mary’s story; Holmes functions more or less as her very able sidekick).But King is up to the task, creating plenty of excitement in a hazardous journey Mary and Sherlock take on horseback into the desert. Perhaps the book’s most gripping scene is the one in which the ever-resilient Russell uses her wiles in an attempt to escape from a dungeon where she has been left to die. The secondary characters are well drawn, including Holmes’s “fifth cousin,” Maréchal Hubert Lyautey (a real historical figure). There is a lingering feeling that the main players in this taut tale are not Mary and Sherlock, but the Moroccans whose way of life is at stake. Though fans of previous Mary Russell books may appreciate this story more than the uninitiated reader coming to the series for the first time, King has done her homework, and this tantalizing glimpse into the life and times of a rapidly evolving Arabic society has remarkable resonance for our own uncertain times. Agent: Linda Allen, Linda Allen Literary. Carol Buggé is the author of nine published novels. Her latest, under the pen name C.E. Lawrence, is Silent Slaughter (Pinnacle, Aug.), the fourth in her Lee Campbell thriller series.
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 09/04/2012
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