Friday, January 16, 2015

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Doreen’s Thoughts:  Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Dreaming Spies
Author:                Laurie R. King
Publisher:   Bantam  
Format:  E-book,  352 pages
List Price:  $10.99
Disclaimer:  ARC read via NetGalley.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.
Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.
Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire. 

Doreen’s Thoughts: 

Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell is a worthy partner for Sherlock Holmes.  Introduced first in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Mary is a bright, brash American woman several years younger than Holmes, yet able to intrigue the man enough to bring him out of retirement and into handling cases once again.  In Dreaming Spies, Mary and Holmes are returning from an adventure in India when they are entangled in a mystery set in Japan.  This mystery spans both the past (in Asia) and the present (England), and King is able to create a separate tone for each of the locations. 

One of the best things about King’s writing is her ability to totally immerse her characters into the heart of their setting.  The reader ends up learning not only about the history of a particular time, but also the characteristics of a particular location.  For this outing, King focuses on Japan, and as a way of framing the story, she starts each chapter with a Haiku, the short 5-7-5 syllable poem that evokes a specific sense and time.  It is a lovely way to introduce each section and hint at what has happened and may happen in the tale. 

As always, King does a great job creating characters that invoke the best and worst of the people they are intended to represent.  By having Mary and Holmes travel through the Japanese countryside, King illustrates the self-sacrifice representative of its people.  The main character, Haruki Sato, is another bright, ambitious woman who is more than she seems, which also is true of Mary herself. 

The plot centers on a small Japanese book of illustrated Haiku, and the history of the piece is established so firmly, a reader might believe such a work exists.  The politics of both England and Japan are at work during the early 20th century, and America has yet to prove itself friend or foe to a Japan that only recently opened itself up to the West. 

Dreaming Spies is an enchanting read, one that had me staying up late and getting up early to reach the end.  As always, King has done a marvelous job continuing the legend of Sherlock Holmes and the wife that he should have had at Baker Street.