Kam's Reviews > Justice Hall

Justice Hall by Laurie R. King
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's review
Sep 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, historical

It's always a pleasure when a book series one favors might start out weak, but then proceeds to go from strength to strength. Of course, it could be that the reader simply gets used to the characters, and perhaps grows fond enough of them that weaknesses in other aspects of the series seem less obvious in the face of comforting familiarity, but I've always been more attached to plots than to characters themselves. It's why I can say Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is superior (in my eyes anyway) to all the other books before and after it. While I had already loved the characters (the first three books saw to that quite handily), the storyline of Goblet of Fire was simply far, far more enjoyable to read than the first three, and even the latter three (especially Order of the Phoenix - I found that one far too tedious for its length).

It is the same, more or less, with the Mary Russell series. I loved the first book, hated the second, marginally enjoyed the third, was quite pleased with the fourth, and was very happy with the fifth. In Justice Hall, the sixth book of the series, I once more found myself caught up in a storyline that pleased me on quite a few levels - and with characters I had already come to love.

I have mentioned in my review of O Jerusalem that I love plots with exotic locales, thrilling chase scenes, and grave danger to the protagonist/s. The fifth novel of the Mary Russell series provided all that, and more: it gave me characters I could get deeply attached to. This was the case with Mahmoud and Ali Hazr, the strange Bedouins-who-are-not-really-Bedouins who accompany Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell in their adventure through Palestine.

Chronologically speaking, O Jerusalem occurs within the same timeline as the first book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, since the trip to Palestine was actually a means of escaping the mastermind of the main plot of the first book. However, Mahmoud and Ali Hazr, who are co-protagonists with Russell and Holmes, are among the crucial characters of Justice Hall, the events of which happen, chronologically speaking, almost immediately after the events of the fourth book, The Moor. As a matter of fact, it happens so soon immediately after The Moor that it seems as if there is barely enough time for Holmes and Russell to settle in before trouble comes knocking on their door - literally.

As it turns out, "trouble" is their old friend Ali Hazr, concussed and plenty angry - except it isn't quite Ali Hazr the Bedouin. It turns out that what Holmes mentioned about the Hazrs actually being Englishmen living as Bedouins is accurate enough - except there was one factor he hadn't quite factored in correctly: rank and status in society. (view spoiler) When Ali asks for their help, Russell and Holmes can hardly say no, and so accompany him to Justice Hall, seat of the Hughenfort family, whereupon they get tangled up in an attempt to find another rightful heir to the Hughenfort titles and properties, as well as solve the mystery behind the exceedingly hasty execution of a young man during the last war.

While the search for a rightful heir is interesting enough, it is really a plotline I didn't find all that interesting because I had seen it enough times in soap operas and dramas, as well as read it in enough romance novels to make my eyes roll slightly at it. No, it was the other half of the plot, about the young soldier who was executed, that I find of greater interest. It is historical fact that young men were executed for a variety of reasons during the First World War, but what is disturbing is that quite a few of them were sentenced to death without the benefit of a proper trial. Many, many young men died this way, and while their numbers were far, far fewer than those who died in the trenches, their deaths are no less tragic, and no less an outrage of justice, than the massacre of thousands on the frontlines.

Another interesting subplot in the novel involves Iris Sutherland. (view spoiler)

Overall, I think that Justice Hall isn't as strong as its predecessor, O Jerusalem. Despite the familiar characters and the interesting new ones (Iris Sutherland, in particular), the plot about tracking down the rightful heir just wasn't as pleasant to read about - not boring, but simply not one I enjoyed. And while the plot about the executed soldier was interesting, it just didn't seem quite as fun as the last one. Or it could simply be that the setting of the story itself, and some of the main characters - grand country estate, the amusements of the wealthy and affluent - remind me a little too much of similarly-set and similarly-plotted romance novels. This isn't to say that Justice Hall is made worse by this association (as I love reading romance novels too), but it's an association I wish I didn't have to make.

As always, Russell's voice and narrative keep the plot moving along just fine, and she and her husband are entertaining, as always. If the reader also happens to be a fan of Downton Abbey, this book will make one feel right at home.

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Quotes Kam Liked

Laurie R. King
“Ma'alesh; no matter; never mind; what can you do but accept things as they are? Ma'alesh, your pot overturned in the fire; ma'alesh, your prize mare died; ma'alesh, you lost all your possessions and half your family. The word was the everyday essence of Islam - which itself, after all, means "submission.”
Laurie R. King, Justice Hall

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