This latest offering in Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries is quite a bit stronger than her last few books in the series. Although my heart belongs to the early books, I love it when Ms. King ventures in a direction that was never fully explored. A prequel, so to speak, of
Locked Rooms, Dreaming Spies takes the reader to Japan, which is where they stop before heading to the San Francisco of that book (King's
Another boat trip (ack!) sets the stage for later happenings. The passengers on board are the usual motley lot: a few playboy types, some elderly experienced travelers, and a few crooks. To Russell and Holmes, the crooks are of high interest, especially since some jewelry has been stolen, and some of the passengers are definitely not what they seem. The enigmatic Haruki Sato agrees to teach them about Japanese customs, some of the language, and--a joy to Russell--a
smattering of haiku. In fact, each chapter begins with a haiku poem, which is a lovely way to experience what Russell does.
Dining with the captain, dancing, and conversing vacuously with the other first-class passengers seems typical and mundane, but the undercurrents threaten to pull them into a maelstrom. When the ship docks, and everyone seemingly goes their own way, Sherlock and Mary hope to be free to enjoy the country that neither of them have previously experienced. The travelogue
through rural Japan the reader enjoys is wonderfully researched and very interesting. But the story moves slowly, building up, I suppose, to the grand denouement.
One of my favorite points in this plot is a special book that belongs to the Japanese but was removed from Tokyo unethically. In this portion of the story, Mary and Sherlock need to find the authentic copy and return it to where it belongs. Sherlock once again seems to take a backseat to Mary, but in this instance, I believe there is a strong
argument for that: Mary is quite scholarly, and she can work through the stupendous collection at Oxford, where they next sail.
The book's slow pace is somewhat daunting, especially to those who have not read
the previous books in the series. I suggest the reader go back and explore some of King's earliest works and get to know this couple as they grow in
a friendship that eventually leads to their marriage. The stories grow and change as well, and King does an exemplary job in creating a real, early 20th-century life, allowing us to learn much and question some points of the history of this time, as she researches so devoutly. Looking forward to the next book in the series!