Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Game

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Game (Bantam, 2004).

Credit where it's due: with The Game, her seventh novel of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, Laurie King succeeded in keeping me worried out of my skull that something really unpleasant was right around the corner for our heroes. The villain of the piece proves to be dangerously demented, and a combination of insanity and infinite resources really looks like it's enough to finally beat the invunerable Holmes.

Getting to the meat of this one takes a little patience, however. I was unsatisfied with O Jerusalem, even as reading the sixth novel, Justice Hall, proved why it was necessary for King to fill in the characters' backstory in that longwinded fashion, because of what felt like research overwhelming the narrative. It seemed like each nuance of the foreign culture, and every minute of the arduous travel, had to be detailed in minutiae. Here, as 1924 dawns and Russell and Holmes travel to India to search for the missing Kimball O'Hara (you'll remember him if you've read your Kipling), King again seems more interested in immersing readers in the culture than getting on with the story. I concede that she's playing by the rules; Holmes' powers as a master of disguise and an undercover operator rely on his ability to completely immerse himself into his new identities, after all, but it can become a little wearying.

It's probably more snobbery on my part than any fault of the fiction. It was always amusing when Doyle had Holmes vanish for weeks on end, only to turn up and startle Dr. Watson with his reappearance somehow. Something about the hoops that Mary has to jump through can't help but bother me. Sure, I suppose being uprooted and forced to learn foreign languages and etiquette at a moment's notice comes as part and parcel of being married to the world's greatest detective, and Mary knew exactly what she was getting into some years previously, and Holmes would never have allowed himself to fall in love with anybody not capable of doing the job.

Still, with one hair-raising adventure after another, and three novels spanning three continents, set across a period of less than five months, I understand Mary's exhaustion and sympathize wholeheartedly with her when she says that the next time her wretched brother-in-law needs some job doing, they should decline and relax for a year or two. Unfortunately, there's enough of a hint dropped towards the end that I'm pretty sure the summer of 1924 will see our heroes in Savannah, of all places, looking for a mysterious woman who was on the steamer to Aden with them. Poor Mary!


Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I just finished re-reading Locked Rooms, which is the follow-up to this novel - they end up not in Savannah, but San Diego. The novel deals entirely with Mary's past and the trauma of losing her parents, introduces yet another familiar literary face (Dashiell Hammett, anyone?), and is among my favourites in the series.

-- Ashley

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Ssssssh, spoilers! *pout

Anonymous said...

Locked Rooms takes place in San Francisco.