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Locked Rooms    by Laurie R. King Amazon.com order for
Locked Rooms
by Laurie R. King
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This follows The Game as the 8th adventure in the historical mystery series starring an aging (but still vital in both body and intellect) Sherlock Holmes, and his brilliant young wife Mary Russell. Locked Rooms reminded me a little of Laurie King's Folly, in its incorporation of a strong psychological element, as an unusually vulnerable Mary gradually opens the locked rooms of her own childhood memories, with Sherlock's prodding and help.

At first, Mary does not even remember that she was in San Francisco for its 1906 earthquake and fire. And she continues to blame herself for distracting her father at a crucial moment, causing the accident that killed her beloved parents and brother in 1914. Now, it's 1922 (think Prohibition and jazz). Holmes and his wife are back in San Francisco, supposedly to deal with her family estate. But Mary has been suffering nightmares, there was an attempt on her life in Palestine, and another follows their arrival in California. Holmes has worked out some answers already and is waiting for Mary to 'ask herself a simple question that would teeter an edifice of ten years' belief. Was it indeed an accident? Or had my family in fact been murdered?'

At first there are only puzzles. Why did Mary's father require in his will that no-one enter the family mansion except in the presence of a family member? What accounted for the close relationship between Mary's parents and their Chinese servants, Mah and Micah Long? What exactly happened during the earthquake, and why did Judith Russell take her children back to England afterwards? Of course, the detecting duo figure it out, with help from Chinaman Tom Long, a feng shui expert, newly recruited Irregulars, and (filling in, despite his tubercular lungs, for Watson and for Mary's preoccupation) the colorful figure of greying ex-Pinkerton, author/PI Dashiel Hammett. Locked Rooms is an excellent addition to this engaging series.

2nd review by Theresa Ichino:

This is the eighth outing for Mary Russell, one-time apprentice and now wife of Sherlock Holmes. (Yes, that Sherlock Holmes.) The Editor's Preface presents this as the eighth chapter of Russell's memoirs, a pleasing conceit that continues the pretence that Russell and Holmes are real people. Previous readers of this series will know that King consistently provides an entertaining mystery, enlivened not only by period backgrounds but also by the characters. An older Holmes, still uncannily observant, is well-matched with the acerbic and competent Mary Russell, despite the difference in their ages. (The year is 1924.)

After adventures in the Middle East and Japan, the couple makes a detour to San Francisco, to settle Russell's legal affairs. Her father has left a considerable estate; his will includes a puzzling codicil: no one is allowed onto the property unless in the company of a member of the family. Since Russell, the sole survivor of the accident that took the lives of her mother, father, and little brother, has been in England since the age of fourteen, this is the first time that anyone has been able to explore the property. Delving into the mystery, they learn that the Chinese couple who worked for Russell's family died, as did the psychologist who treated Russell after her family's deaths. Russell herself is attacked shortly after their arrival. Most troubling of all to Holmes is her sudden blindness to the implications, as well as the recurring nightmares that hint at unresolved issues from her past. He believes that all these incidents are linked, and that they cast suspicion on the motor accident that took her family.

This is a highly enjoyable read. The interplay between the characters is amusing not only between the two protagonists, but their San Francisco allies: Dashiell Hammett (yes, that Hammett), the adopted son of the Chinese servants, and Holmes' newly recruited irregulars. Holmes' exasperation with Conan Doyle is also fun, a chink in the redoubtable detective's armour. King has succeeded not only in writing a well-crafted mystery, she continues to portray two very compelling protagonists. Holmes purists may disagree, but her stories are a tribute to a literary icon as well as a vehicle for her own engaging character of Mary Russell. Locked Rooms provides a fascinating glimpse into Russell's past and demonstrates again that she is a fit companion for the immortal detective.

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