Garment of Shadows
by Laurie R. King

Bantam, 2012. ISBN 978-0-553-80799-8.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 07/30/2012

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

One of the most dynamic and intellectual mystery writers today, Laurie R. King has penned yet another Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes story in Garment of Shadows. Morocco and Fez are the locales this time, in a period of confusion and unease. Troubled North Africa finds Mary, after the events in Pirate King, waking up one day, and having no idea where she is, or why. Or even WHO she is! Is she a guest? A prisoner?

The Hazr brothers are back; two of my favorite King characters, who appeared first in O, Jerusalem and Justice Hall. (They are actually British cousins who have adopted this part of the world over their staid English backgrounds.) They dive in to help the intrepid Holmes, who is searching for his missing wife. This book is a particularly insightful addition to the King oeuvre; King weaves history and personalities, bringing us the sights and smells of a Moroccan bazaar, and a glimpse of a 1924 life of struggle and uncertainty in French Protectorate Morocco. To cite an example, I love this descriptive quote: "My nostrils were teased by the odours of frying onions and baking bread and the cloud of aromas from the spice merchants, in between being repelled by the miasma from butchers' shops and malfunctioning sewers, entertained by the sharpened-pencil smell of fresh cedar and the musk of sandalwood, caught by the clean reek of fresh leather or the dark richness of roasting coffee beans, and educated by the contrasts of wet plaster with crushed mint, donkey's droppings overlaid with fresh lavender."

Spain controls the northern strip, Germany is struggling for a foothold to harvest minerals they need to continue to build a strong German state, and the Moslems, who have lived in Morocco for centuries, are trying to formulate a culture of independence from the European overseers that want control. King does a marvelous job with the onerous task of bringing Russell and Holmes to life in a story set in a milieu most of us don't know well.

Even with a loss of memory, Russell acts instinctively in removing herself from an unfamiliar place, "finding" clothes and supplies to hold her over, and working on discovering the facts and fictions behind her inexplicable circumstances. The elderly man she comes across, who seems so very glad to see her, is a puzzlement that Mary Russell has to struggle to accept...for he insists he is her husband!

To truly enjoy Laurie R. King, I recommend you start at the beginning of the series (Beekeeper's Apprentice). Although King does a highly competent job of providing the backstory in Garment of Shadows, the flavor of the relationship between Holmes and Russell dates back to Russell's teen years, and it is important to get that essence in order to fully appreciate the maturation of Russell, and her marriage with Holmes. I love the way King's characters evolve and flourish; they never feel staged or contrived. In this excellent series, we grow along with Russell, and learn so much about the world from author King.

The pacing of the book is brisk and suspenseful. Its complexity moves the storyline, and the denouement makes a tight and perfect finish. And once again, I am charmed and educated by a series that continues to enchant me!

Read an excerpt from this book.

King was born in northern California, the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area. Laurie R. King has won the Edgar and Creasey awards (for A Grave Talent), the Nero (A Monstrous Regiment of Women) and the MacCavity (for Folly); her nominations include the Agatha, the Orange, the Barry, and two more Edgars. She was also given an honorary doctorate from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Visit her website.

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