Ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle finished up his world-famous series involving Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson, there have been countless authors who have tried to re-imagine the quirky and astute Holmes and keep his adventures alive. These tributes have ranged from the excellent to the bizarre, and even to those who have missed the mark entirely.
"The suspense drips off of every page, and Laurie R. King keeps the tension building throughout this rip-roaring adventure that plays much more as an action tale than a classic mystery."
With the release of PIRATE KING, American author Laurie R. King embarks on her 12th novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series --- a series that many aficionados claim is the best ongoing Holmes tribute written today. The year is 1924, and the much older and retired Sherlock Holmes is married to a woman named Mary Russell. Their relationship is quite interesting and marked by the fact that Sherlock is nearly three times her age. Mary, a one-time apprentice to the retired beekeeper, has used her youthful exuberance and mental acuity to act on missions that Sherlock is no longer able to handle on his own --- though he is never far behind.
The books in the series are all written from Mary’s point of view in the same manner that Dr. John Watson captured the original Sherlock Holmes adventures. This latest installment, however, provides for the wildest adventure yet in Mary’s memoirs --- one that she would not have believed herself if she hadn’t actually been there.
Holmes’s old colleague, London Inspector Lestrade, approaches Mary to solicit her assistance with his latest investigation. England’s young silent-film industry is represented by a Napoleonic and megalomaniacal gentleman named Randolph Fflytte. He is the Quentin Tarantino of his day whose movies are at the forefront of silent action films. His latest epic is a unique film-within-a-film titled The Pirate King and is to feature a crew filming a movie version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera, The Pirates of Penzance.
Sounds simple enough, but Lestrade and other European authorities feel there is something fishy (no pun intended) about Fflytte Films, and the rumors of criminal activity have begun to spread. Lestrade is able to get Mary installed as the Assistant to the Assistant Director (Fflytte’s cousin, Geoffrey Hale). Her adventure begins in Lisbon where the filming is about to get underway. The only sticking point is that Fflytte and Hale need to cast some men to play the pirates. They find some local “fishermen” who look like a nice fit, and the crew’s Portuguese interpreter --- Senor Alvaro de Campos --- seals the deal.
Once the filming starts, Mary is crash-coursed in the wild world of silent films and barely has enough time to investigate any wrongdoing. Leave it said that everyone is uniquely bizarre --- right down to Senor de Campos, who utilizes multiple personalities to write and publish his own line of poetry and dramatic monologues. Things begin to really take off when the crew, in search of a ship to use for their pirate vessel, purchases a broken-down sail ship named The Harlequin. Mary feels uneasy as the “fisherman” cast in the lead role of The Pirate King --- a rascal by the name of La Rocha --- seems a bit too familiar with the new vessel, and his colleagues who were cast as the rest of the pirate crew seem to be taking their roles a little too seriously.
Of course, the novel would not be complete without the arrival of Sherlock himself. Mary thought she had left her elderly husband at home to host his intrepid brother, Mycroft, only to have him also turn up in an undercover role. Sherlock is in the guise of the actor portraying the Modern Major General in an attempt to assist Mary in getting closer to the shenanigans of Fflytte Films’ cast and crew. When The Harlequin heads for Morocco to shoot the end of the film, things take an ominous turn as La Rocha and crew vie for control of the situation, and Fflytte and company soon find themselves the captives of a real-life band of pirates who have unclean attentions towards the female cast members. At this, Mary asks herself: “What is the Gilbert and Sullivan opera about, ultimately, if not the permanent abduction of young English women?”
How will Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes fend off a band of real pirates and escape from the unfamiliar confines of Morocco --- a country in the midst of civil war --- while still completing their mission? The suspense drips off of every page, and Laurie R. King keeps the tension building throughout this rip-roaring adventure that plays much more as an action tale than a classic mystery. King keeps the Holmes legend alive and kicking, and PIRATE KING is a treat for all Holmesians as well as anyone intrigued by the bygone era of silent film.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 22, 2011