PW: You've used very weighty "hooks" for several of your mystery novels: the position of women in the leadership of the early Christian church; feminine aspects of God; the character of the Fool; and, in Justice Hall, the summary execution of many British soldiers during World War I. Do those hooks lead to the stories or is it the other way around?
LRK: I think both. Some of the themes, like that of the Fool [in To Play the Fool], were things that I wanted to explore.
PW: You prefer to bill your Sherlockian series as Mary Russell novels rather than as Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Do you feel that gives you an advantage?
LRK: I don't know that it gives me an advantage, but it certainly comes out in the stories in a different way. I can allow the character of Holmes to develop in ways that someone who is writing a Holmes pastiche could not. After all, the Mary Russell novels take place after Conan Doyle was through with Holmes and I'm not bound by the Holmesian canon.
PW: What is the most amusing (or strangest) reaction you've gotten to your Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels?
LRK: The ones that I get the most pleasure out of are from 15-year-old girls who discover this character who is them.
PW: Are these girls who have met Sherlock Holmes previously or who are discovering Sherlock through your books?
LRK: They're both. I have been very interested in the number of kids who have read the Sherlock Holmes books after reading the Mary Russell books. That's great. That's more or less how I rediscovered the Holmes books.
PW: You said in a previous interview that you enjoyed freeing Holmes from Conan Doyle's preconceptions. Can you expand on that?
LRK: The period after the First World War was an extremely different time, so that Sherlock Holmes would have been a different person following 1918 than he was during the Victorian era. One of the pleasures for me as a writer—and one of the pleasures for the readers of this series—is that it pits two equal minds against each other. In terms of brain power, Mary and Holmes are equal. What would Holmes have been like if Watson had been an intellectual equal?
PW: How has Mary Russell changed Sherlock Holmes, apart from the issue of theirs being a marriage of intellectual equals?
LRK: On the one hand, clearly Russell hasn't changed the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle one bit. On the other hand, the detective had retired and was ready for something new and challenging. From John Watson, representative of everyman, to Mary Russell, 20th-century everywoman—under a partnership shift like that, a man is bound to change somewhat.
PW: What aspect of writing the series do you enjoy in particular?
LRK: One thing is the constant balancing act, of how to maintain the light, basically tongue-in-cheek humor with solid, real-life characters and concerns. And how to take the ghost of a Victorian romance—and someone else's ghost, at that—and bring him into a more modern age, reflecting the inevitable changes while preserving the integrity of the person. It takes the "what if?" of fiction into another realm.
PW: How did you become aware of the number of British soldiers executed for desertion and cowardice during World War I?
LRK: When I was in England in 1995, there was an article in the Times about a group of descendants of those soldiers. It was a very moving article and it kind of stayed with me.
PW: What's next on the agenda for Russell and Holmes?
LRK: Well, I'm tending to alternate these books with the Kate Martinelli books, but I think they may go to India next.