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3rd September
written by Steph

Well, I might as well just call this review "A Love Letter to Mary", because I continue to simply adore Laurie King’s Mary Russell series! Have you started them yet? If not, you are missing out, my friends. This is now my go-to series when I’m looking for a fun, comfort read that is guaranteed to soothe me of any worries (reading or otherwise), and one that I indulge in without any kind of guilt. These books are simply a pleasure, and I want everyone to know it. A Letter of Mary picks up a few months after the events of the second book in the series (which I talked about here). Life has become somewhat dull and uninspiring on the work front for Mary and Holmes, so it doesn't take much prompting of consideration for her to accept the request of one Dorothy Ruskin, feisty lady archeologist on leave from Jerusalem, to meet and discuss some matters of a rather sensitive nature. During their meeting, Ruskin gives Russell a remarkably well-preserved piece of papyrus in an exceedingly ornate, jeweled box, the content of which would prove rather earth-shattering if the scroll were ever authenticated. Not soon after leaving their company, Ruskin is struck dead in what appears to be an accidental hit and run, but the signs of which soon seem to point unerringly towards murder. It’s up to Mary and Holmes to determine who – and why – Ruskin was murdered, while Mary also struggles with the decision of what to do with the letter she has been entrusted with. I continue to be so impressed with this series! It’s so fun, but also intelligent! You don't feel like your brain is turning to mush while you read, in fact I feel like I actually learn a few things here and there. I think A Letter of Mary is probably the best mystery of the bunch thus far, at least in terms of the construction of the story itself. There was a good amount of foreshadowing throughout the novel, yet none of it was overly obvious or glaring, but worked more in the sense that when the mystery was solved, you could look back and see how King was subtly suggesting the direction of the outcome early on and feel like a right dolt for missing all the clues. There were plenty of red herrings as well, which are vital for a good mystery. The non-mystery elements of the novel were just as strong as well. Mary and Holmes continue to be full-bodied, dynamic characters that you just can’t help feeling invested in. While I love Mary, I do think King deserves special recognition for her depiction of Holmes. It can’t be easy to take a character that’s so well known in literature and put your own stamp on him. Maybe it sounds strange to say this about fictional characters, but I just love the ease with which her characters exist on the page; they feel so natural and authentic, I truly believe in them as I read. After the last book, I was a bit worried that the romance elements I had been so invested in would all but vanish in this book now that the sexual tension was resolved, but I was exceedingly happy with the level of romance that appeared in this novel. It was much subtler, and not really at the forefront, but there were plenty of moments to make this Russell/Holmes shipper sigh with satisfaction.  Delightful. Of course, the rich historical and social elements that add another wonderful dimension to this series are there once more. Again, King explores the “woman question”, that is the role of women in society during the 1920s. The character of Ruskin was a real trailblazer, struggling with following a path that many at the time considered only suitable for men, and indeed, one of the chief suspects in the murder investigation is a man who intensely opposes any change in women’s subordinate position in society. I think that King is always conscious of the historical restraints that Mary faces, and any independence or anachronistic behaviors that she gives her, are well earned and well justified. Also, I’m casually interested in religion, but not in any real way, yet King manages to write on the topic in a way that makes me actually feel invested and genuinely interested in its historical antecedents, which is no small feat in my book. Every subject she touches really just springs to life and sucks me in, which is perhaps what I look most for in a book. To take me somewhere else, teach me something new, and show me the world in a way I hadn’t thought to look at it before on my own. If you feel similarly, then all I can say is, why are you being so stubborn? Just read these books already! Personally, I’m itching to read book 4, The Moor, but have decided to pace myself. A world without a new Mary Russell book is not one I look forward to experiencing, so for now, I shall attempt to be patient. Rating: 4.5 out of 5


  1. 09/03/2010

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying this series so much. A Letter of Mary is one of my favorites! I will warn you that I didn’t enjoy The Moor quite so much as the others, partly because it does seem to rely a bit more on knowledge of the original Holmes books, in this case, Hound of the Baskervilles, which I have read but completely forgotten. However, the 5th book, O Jerusalem, is wonderful!

  2. 09/03/2010

    This is a wonderful series, for all the reasons you’ve cited so nicely. I’ve been pacing myself a bit as well,but you’ve enticed me to pick up the next one in line for me (O Jerusalem, which I’m pleased to hear Teresa say is wonderful.)

  3. 09/03/2010

    I read the first book in the series and didn’t really love it, but so many people like these books that I’m pretty sure it’s worth while continuing to read in the series. I think maybe the first one was a little awkward because of the need to set up the series. I’ve found that happens pretty often with first books. I have the second book on hand for when I’m ready.

  4. Strawberry Curls

    Actually, LETT (A Letter of Mary) takes place in Aug. 1923, so it was over two years after the end of MREG (A Monstrous Regiment of Woman). Life has changed significantly for Mary Russell as she had finished her degrees and started writing her first book on theology. She has been concentrating on her career and done little investigating with Holmes. All that changes when Dorothy Ruskin arrives at the Sussex cottage.

  5. 09/04/2010

    Ok, you sold it to me! I’ll add it to the wishlist!

  6. A timely reminder that I need to read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Thanks, Steph!

  7. 09/04/2010

    @ Theresa: Perhaps I’ll put off reading The Moor until I’ve made it in my Sherlock readings to Hounds of the Baskervilles – it’ll be a good way to help me pace myself with these books. Thanks for the tip!
    @ RavenousReader: I rarely binge on a series and read multiple books by an author within a given calendar year because I really like to diversify my reading, but this series is just so addictive! I’m glad I still have 7 books ahead of me… I hope you enjoy O Jersualem, and look forward to your thoughts on it!
    @ Dorothy: I really enjoyed the first book in this series, BUT I would say it definitely just keeps getting better. Certainly as far as mysteries go, I think they get stronger with each book in terms of plotting and I think that the subsequent books are better because as you say there isn’t any need to worry about setting up a foundation and King can freely play with the world she’s established.
    @ Strawberry Curls: Dates have never been my thing, so thanks for clearing up some of the chronology for everyone. I would argue though that apart from being married, life hasn’t changed all that much, as she says things have been very much in a lull and Holmes has been quite bored. Thankfully Ruskin enters and shakes things up a bit!
    @ Alex: If you’re a Holmes fan (and I feel like you are), then this series is a must! I think you’ll love it!
    @ Claire: Yes, please do read it soon! I think you’ll be a fan and find it perfectly diverting!

  8. 09/05/2010

    I read the first book a couple of years ago, but I think I wasn’t quite ready for it yet. At the time I was only looking for mysteries most like Agatha Christie’s and hated serious themes in them. I hope I’m getting better at reading books like that though, and your review has convinced me that I need to give this series another try 🙂

  9. 09/06/2010

    Don’t you just love it when you find a series that continues to impress the further and further you go with it? I am in the middle of one right now, and I want to read nothing else. I am going to have to pick up the first book in this series soon because they sound great, and I you haven’t steered me wrong yet! So glad you are having a good time with these books!

  10. 09/06/2010

    @ Bina: These are definitely mysteries that have a strong foundation in ideas and principles, but I still think they’re a lot of fun. But if you’re looking for straight-up plot, I agree that Agatha Christie is sometimes a better choice! I do think I find these books ultimately more rewarding, though, so I hope you give them another chance!
    @ zibilee: Yes, it’s always nice when you find a series that’s really compelling and that you can’t wait to read more from. We’re currently reading The Hunger Games trilogy and having a bit of a love-hate relationship with it…

  11. Eva

    I kind of love re-living the series through your eyes! Just fyi, when you do reach the end of the series, they’re just as marvelous on the reread. I’m slowly working my way back through (O Jerusalem is next for me), and it’s lovely. 😀

  12. 09/13/2010

    @ Eva: I’m so glad to hear that these novels live up to rereads! I can completely see how that is the case since the mystery element is just one of the fun bits about them and there is plenty to enjoy about them apart from that.

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