Kam's Reviews > A Letter of Mary

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King
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Sep 24, 11

bookshelves: historical, mystery

After the disappointment of A Monstrous Regiment of Women, I was not very much inclined to read the next installment in the Mary Russell series, titled A Letter of Mary. I decided to forge on, though, in the hopes that this will prove better than the last one, and that it might wash away some of the bitter aftertaste of disappointment in the last book.

In this novel, Holmes and Russell appear to be settling well into married life after the events of A Monstrous Regiment of Women, when they are visited in their (formerly just Holmes's) home in Sussex by an old friend: archaeologist Dorothy Ruskin, whom Holmes and Russell met on their travels through Palestine in the first book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. The visit deepens Russell's appreciation for Ruskin, and the latter gives into Russell's keeping a little box she claims to have acquired from an Arab in Palestine. Inside the box is a scroll of papyrus which, when Russell reads it, appears to be a letter written by one Mariam (or Mary) to her sister in Magdala. It does not take much to put two and two together, even for the reader: the "Mariam," or "Mary" of the letter, could only be Mary of Magdala - Mary Magdalene. In the letter, Mariam claims that she is a follower - a disciple - of a man named Joshua, whom she calls the "Anointed One." Joshua, when traced forwards through time, is actually a variation of the name "Jesus."

A Mariam, or Mary, of Magdala who is a disciple if an Anointed One named Joshua, or Jesus. Anyone who has had even the slightest bit of contact with The Da Vinci Code and the controversies associated with it will know precisely what is being referred to here: the position of Mary Magdalene within the circle of followers, or disciples, who gathered around the man who would later be called Jesus Christ.

The letter proves to be an interesting puzzle for Russell, whose analysis of the letter is interspersed throughout the rest of the story. While there is no mention made (thankfully) of the idea that Mary Magdalene could have been Jesus's wife, Russell's thoughts on what this letter could mean if unleashed upon London in the early 1920s are fascinating. The suffragette movement and the ideals it fought for, which were grounded in the events of World War I and which gained steam in the years immediately after, were always present, even in the first novel. While they were not foregrounded in The Beekeeper's Apprentice, they were given much more attention in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and play an important role once again in A Letter of Mary. Russell's thoughts on the letter sharpen when she is forced to go undercover in the household of a particularly misogynistic colonel, and it is while she is playing secretary to said colonel that her musings on the role of women and their continued participation in the future become clearest and most interesting.

This book was better than the last one, which is why it receives three stars as opposed to the two I gave the last one. But it gets nothing higher than that because of one particular annoying feature: a red herring. (view spoiler)

Despite that problem, however, I do find this book slightly stronger than the last one, and I hope it is the sign of better things to come in this series. Russell's voice is, as always, entertaining and a joy to read, especially when she starts snarking back at her husband - but then, Holmes always gives as good as he gets, and there's nothing wrong with that. Some readers might blush like Mycroft when they figure out the other aspects of Holmes and Russell's marriage, but it does strengthen King's stand that her Holmes is more human than Doyle's.

One other thing that might be of interest to those who love fantasy literature as well as mysteries: a particularly famous and deeply revered fantasist out of Oxford is briefly mentioned by Russell in the course of the story. Finding his name tickled me to no end, as I am a fan of said fantasist, and I hope that others take the same pleasure in it that did.
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Quotes Kam Liked

Laurie R. King
“The hand of bone and sinew and flesh achieves its immortality in taking up a pen. The hand on a page wields a greater power than the fleshly hand ever could in life.”
Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary


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