Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club discussion

The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, #14)
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Archived VBC Selections > The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King - VBC June 2018

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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
To get us revved up for the NEW Mary Russell coming out later this month, we're rereading Murder of Mary Russell!

To get us started, who is reading for a second time, and who is just discovering this one?


Antoinette | 186 comments I'm reading it for the second time and looking forward to it. I'm sure I'll discover things I didn't notice the first time. I love backstory, especially from Laurie King.


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KarenB | 352 comments I will be on the second go-around soon. I've been slowly, interspersed with other books, reading my way through the entire series.


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My first time. I only discovered Mary Russell last autumn and found that if I had read the books at the rate I was going it would all be over by Christmas. Consequently I have rationed myself to one a month and read other books during the month to slow myself up. Current reading is the second world war history of the SAS (military) alongside the Murder of MR: a remarkable contrast!


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Pam wrote: "My first time. I only discovered Mary Russell last autumn and found that if I had read the books at the rate I was going it would all be over by Christmas. Consequently I have rationed myself to on..."

Pam and all, glad that you are re-reading the book and/or enjoying it for the first time. I'm moderating this month so just joining the discussion! I'll be interested to hear how some of you feel about the book on a re-read - there were some strong opinions last time around! Looking forward to re-reading and discussing with you!


Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "Pam wrote: "I'll be interested to hear how some of you feel about the book on a re-read - there were some strong opinions last time around!"

Me too! I was so caught up in all the plot twists on the first read, I'm thinking I'll probably notice more details than I did before.

I'm "re-reading" as an audiobook this time around as well, so that will probably change up what I focus on in the story.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "Merrily wrote: "Pam wrote: "I'll be interested to hear how some of you feel about the book on a re-read - there were some strong opinions last time around!"

Me too! I was so caught up in all the p..."

I love "re-reading" Laurie's books as audiobooks - I always hear so many more details than I do when I read them in the traditional way.


Mary (storytellermary) | 262 comments That's how I read all the Harry Potter books, first reading the book, then listening to Jim Dale read them to me. A good reader can enhance the experience. I'll get the audio version <3
O. T.: When I taught Am. Lit. to h.s. juniors, we did many of the heavier works aloud, like a reader's theater version, taking parts. One day the office called for a student and I overruled them, "No, he's Ahab and we need him." I wasn't going to have him miss his big final scene. ;-)


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Jen 3_Piets (3_piets) | 11 comments I did my first reread of this just two weeks ago (before I got the message of the book of the month). Looking forward to seeing opinions on it.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Mary wrote: "That's how I read all the Harry Potter books, first reading the book, then listening to Jim Dale read them to me. A good reader can enhance the experience. I'll get the audio version <3
O. T.: When..."


Mary, I think that's a great technique for teaching literature! I still remember my 9th grade English teacher reading "Great Expectations" aloud to us, a chapter or two a day. We were much more interested in What Happens Next, and invested in the story, than we would have been had we just been assigned to read it.


message 11: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary (storytellermary) | 262 comments When I taught eighth grade the teacher across the hall would sometimes have her seventh graders put their heads down and listen to my students reading. We are built for speaking/listening.
I have recommended and used Donald Davis's WRITING AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, and telling the tale first has helped students write much better narratives.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Mary wrote: "When I taught eighth grade the teacher across the hall would sometimes have her seventh graders put their heads down and listen to my students reading. We are built for speaking/listening.
I have ..."


It makes sense when you think how many stories were passed on from generation to generation, before the written word existed!


message 13: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments Erin wrote: To get us started, who is reading for a second time, and who is just discovering t..."

This is my first time to read this book. At first, I was a little disappointed that it was mostly about Mrs. Hudson, but I was eventually drawn into the story and am enjoying it.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Dayna wrote: "Erin wrote: To get us started, who is reading for a second time, and who is just discovering t..."

This is my first time to read this book. At first, I was a little disappointed that it was mostly..."


I know, sometimes I hate to see the focus taken off Holmes and Russell, but Laurie always tells a good story - and this one tells us a lot more about both Holmes AND Mrs. Hudson.


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Dayna | 205 comments Learning about Hudson and Holmes has been enlightening.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Dayna wrote: "Learning about Hudson and Holmes has been enlightening."

Indeed. I always enjoy stories about Holmes as a young man - it's so interesting to see how different writers imagine him. I think the version Laurie presents here is quite authentic to Canonical Holmes.


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Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments Erin wrote: "To get us revved up for the NEW Mary Russell coming out later this month, we're rereading Murder of Mary Russell!

To get us started, who is reading for a second time, and who is just discovering t..."


This will be my first read & I'm looking forward to it; starting it tomorrow!


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
There are some interesting themes/questions in this book, which those of you who are reading it for the first time might wish to contemplate as you go along. How far should someone go to redeem someone else, especially a person who may not want redemption? Is Samuel "born bad" or would things have been different had his mother been around? This is an early case of Holmes acting as judge and jury - do you think he's too young for the roll? Not suggesting a discussion quite yet as we don't want to Spoil, but things to be prepared for!


message 19: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
This one is a bit hard to discuss without spoilers!


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I certainly have more ambivalent views about Holmes after reading most of the book. In some ways, for Mary, (and this reader) this is a ‘seeing your heroes/parents as deeply flawed human beings’ moment. Not quite finished yet and also mindful of spoilers.

On another tack, I am both listening and reading and am really appreciating how Jenny Sterlin is ageing the voices of the Holmes brothers. However I found the other reader, whilst accomplished, not quite up to a faint Scottish accent. She often veered off into an Irish accent before bringing herself back. Very distracting.

However, as someone said earlier on this thread, listening brings a new dimension to books. More on that later after 10th.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "This one is a bit hard to discuss without spoilers!"

That's why I said "no discussion now, just some things to think about"!


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Emily | 341 comments Pam wrote:... "I am both listening and reading and am really appreciating how Jenny Sterlin is ageing the voices of the Holmes brothers. However I found the other reader, whilst accomplished, not quite up to a faint Scottish accent. She often veered off into an Irish accent before bringing herself back. Very distracting..."

I have that response when Jenny Sterlin does the American accents; they're a bit off. I'm always so impressed by voice actors - how they make the voices so distinct - that it takes me aback. "How hard can it be to do an American accent? I can speak with an American accent!"


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Pam wrote:... "I am both listening and reading and am really appreciating how Jenny Sterlin is ageing the voices of the Holmes brothers. However I found the other reader, whilst accomplished, not q..."

I think one of the challenges is "what's an American accent"? I have an audiobook of "The Daughter of Time" in which Derek Jacobi is the reader. There is an American character and during the course of the audio book, Jacobi sounds like everything from Southern to New York. I think he was trying on different accents until he found oe that he liked!


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Haha Emily and Merrily, I would never have heard those nuances of American accent I imagine (which is your point, no doubt)! Although I did once frighten an American acquaintance by deducing (not guessing, of course) exactly where she came from down to a few miles. It was a lucky strike as she came from a place where I’d spent many months. I didn’t tell her, of course.....

I think reading out loud and changing accents from the narrator’s voice to Holmes to Mrs H to Billy to Mr H must be hugely exacting, so perhaps I am being unfair to criticise.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Pam wrote: "Haha Emily and Merrily, I would never have heard those nuances of American accent I imagine (which is your point, no doubt)! Although I did once frighten an American acquaintance by deducing (not g..."

Yes, I'm always awed at how skilled the readers are, especially men who can do a credible female voice and vice versa (Jenny Sterlin's Holmes is now who I hear in my head as I'm reading the books!)


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Dayna | 205 comments Merrily wrote: "There are some interesting themes/questions in this book, which those of you who are reading it for the first time might wish to contemplate as you go along. How far should someone go to redeem som..."

Is “born bad” mean some genetic predisposition to a trait that develops later, like addictions? Perhaps. I don’t think people are born good or bad so much as they are born into situations or environments that contribute to undesirable personality traits.

Holmes repeatedly acts as judge and jury but usually with what is just in mind, which isn’t always what is legal in the strictest sense. However, he does this with logic rather than emotion as the basis. In many ways, he is almost “Vulcan” in his logic.

I’m curious about the little figures that James does by knotting thread. It almost sounds like macrame. Anyone know more about this?

One of the things I appreciate are the glimpses we get into what everyday life was like at the time. Mary comments on Mycroft’s love of gadgets, like the coffee pot. She doesn’t describe it, but I’m thinking it must be a percolator. I recall in another book she mentions Mycroft installing a shower, which she likes for being able to wash her hair.


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Holmes seems to have been strenuous in both his offer of redemption to Mrs Hudson and the means of achieving it but I cannot see or understand her motivation in taking up his offer and leaving her son behind in Australia. I cannot understand why anyone would sentence themselves to living and caring for someone who had been instrumental in ‘forcing’ me to abandon a child (and making it look like my choice). Little wonder she considered rat poison. Billy asked the questions I wanted answered: was Holmes’ conditions of return a type of blackmail? Although H choked on his pipe, I did not think he gave a good answer. Moreover it feels like unbridled male power being exerted, at least as onerous as any power exerted within a marriage, where the law sat squarely with the male. Just a product as his time perhaps or something much more sadistic and with a hint of sexual bondage to boot?


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Emily | 341 comments I don't think sadism (or sexual power), but I do think, yes, being completely sure that he was right, and being backed up by a culture that would encourage the point of view that an upper-class male knew better than anyone else.

Still, I think it's fair to say she did have a choice. She had an easy out, just stay in Australia, and I don't think she had to worry that he would come and track her down and make her work for him.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I don't think sadism (or sexual power), but I do think, yes, being completely sure that he was right, and being backed up by a culture that would encourage the point of view that an upper-class mal..."

Dayna, Emily ane Pam,

Dayna - it is interesting to learn that some things we take for granted were "new" in the 20's. I remember Russell talking once about her new rubber-soled shoes that were so quiet! And I think what James is doing IS essentially macrame.
I think the whole question of Holmes' intention to redeem Mrs. Hudson is one of the most fascinating things about this book. As Dayna points out, he does tend to value logic over emotion, but that sometimes leads him to be insensitive (something that I think Gatiss and Moffat depicted well in "Sherlock.") Surely if he'd been more empathetic he'd never have insisted that Clarissa leave her child behind.
I wonder if Mrs. Hudson agreed to leave Samuel behind because she'd never truly bonded with him (which might explain his later inability to bond with her or anyone else). She knew she ought to love him, but she didn't, and confesses as much in the book.
I think Emily is right in that Holmes' high-handed behavior was also encouraged by the culture of the time. I think of his "saving" of Mrs. Hudson as one of two "I know what's best for you" moments in Kanon, the other being Mycroft's decision not to tell Holmes about his son. In both cases you could argue that the decisions were well-intended, but something about them doesn't sit right with me.


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Emily | 341 comments Merrily wrote: "I think of his "saving" of Mrs. Hudson as one of two "I know what's best for you" moments in Kanon, the other being Mycroft's decision not to tell Holmes about his son. In both cases you could argue that the decisions were well-intended, but something about them doesn't sit right with me...."

Interesting that both examples involve children.


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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "Emily wrote: "I think of his "saving" of Mrs. Hudson as one of two "I know what's best for you" moments in Kanon, the other being Mycroft's decision not to tell Holmes about his son. In both cases you could argue that the decisions were well-intended, but something about them doesn't sit right with me."

Those kinds of decisions never sit well with me either, because it's taking someone's choice away. "I know what's best for you" is so incredibly patronizing and often totally selfish; it always sounds to me more like "I can't trust you to do what I want you to do."


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "Merrily wrote: "Emily wrote: "I think of his "saving" of Mrs. Hudson as one of two "I know what's best for you" moments in Kanon, the other being Mycroft's decision not to tell Holmes about his son..."

Exactly! Both Mycroft and Irene assumed that if Holmes knew about Damian, he'd do the Honorable Thing and then regret it, but it should have been his choice - and perhaps he would have had a different life, but one just as productive. And might Mrs. Hudson have reformed and been a good housekeeper, even with a child? (I also wonder if Holmes wanted her to leave Samuel in Australia because as a young man, he simply did not want to be burdened with an infant sharing the Baker Street digs - sad to say!).


message 33: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments But what choice did Clarissa really have in 1880? She had no formal education, few marketable skills, no references, and was unmarried with an infant son. Perhaps Allie might have taken her in to be what...an unpaid housekeeper? Through Holmes’ generous salary, Mrs. Hudson ended up with a sizable nest egg on which she could retire and a lifetime of adventure with Holmes. I could think of worse fates for a woman in Clarissa’s position in that time.


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Emily | 341 comments Presumably she could have passed herself off as a widow - I imagine Allie would have colluded on that, and no one was likely to check. But I do think an unmarried woman leaving her child with a relative permanently would probably have been seen as a good option, not a tragedy.


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Emily | 341 comments Merrily wrote: "I also wonder if Holmes wanted her to leave Samuel in Australia because as a young man, he simply did not want to be burdened with an infant sharing the Baker Street digs - sad to say!..."
To my mind, there's a difference between saying, "This is a live-in position and children can't be accommodated," and leaving it to her to make arrangements (stay with Allie, foster out in London so she could see him now and then, whatever), which is a bit cold but sometimes jobs don't allow for children around, vs. saying that she had to leave the child 10000 miles away.


Also - Erin, there's a typo in the discussion title this month - "Muder"


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Merrily wrote: "I also wonder if Holmes wanted her to leave Samuel in Australia because as a young man, he simply did not want to be burdened with an infant sharing the Baker Street digs - sad to s..."

Emily/Dayna, I agree that Mrs. Hudson had limited options (although a woman with her undoubted attractions might also have sought another husband), but what I meant was that Holmes could have offered her the same deal in every detail but one - he might have allowed her to bring the child. In fact, some would argue that the child might have been a further stabilizing influence. However, in that circumstance, she would not have been able to devote her entire time to keeping house for Holmes, and clearly he saw that as a problem. It's possible that he didn't trust Clarissa's ability to reform and believed that the child would be better off in Australia, or at least that's what he might have told himself...


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By way of getting my head around this: at the scene of Hudson’s death Holmes quickly comes to the conclusion that Mrs H has been dealt a bad hand in life and, if he reports the death, thinks she will probably be hanged (as the police will discover her background and juries tended to be unsympathetic to transgressing women).
At the same time Billy will be dealt with by the authorities and will probably carry on in his thieving lifestyle. The baby would be put in the workhouse to possibly die young . Thus three lives are ruined by Holmes reporting the death.

So Holmes decides to rescue three lives by becoming an accessory to murder/manslaughter. He then disposes of the body, pays off her and her father’s debts to the Bishop and offers Mrs H the chance of redemption and the boys the chance to lead a new life in Australia (the vileness of the sister is unknown to Holmes of course).

Hmmm. I still don’t like the forty plus years of servitude but then what option does she have with a sister like that.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Pam wrote: "By way of getting my head around this: at the scene of Hudson’s death Holmes quickly comes to the conclusion that Mrs H has been dealt a bad hand in life and, if he reports the death, thinks she wi..."

Pam, that is certainly a positive interpretation of Holmes' decision. Being a fan, I always think he has the right intention and certainly is operating in a logical fashion, although in this case I think he may have the righteous purity of a very young man. It's possible with another decade on him, he might have conceived of a less draconian solution!


message 39: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments There's a bit of an undertone that Samuel is a bad seed and that Clarissa and Holmes somehow sense that early on, making it more logical that she would leave him behind. But that doesn't make a lot of sense, really - regardless of whether he was or not, I don't think it would be clear at 12 mo., or whatever he was.

Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be quite so forgiving of someone killing her son, even if he has proved to be awful.


message 40: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "There's a bit of an undertone that Samuel is a bad seed and that Clarissa and Holmes somehow sense that early on, making it more logical that she would leave him behind. But that doesn't make a lot..."

Emily, I return to the thought that Mrs. Hudson just never bonded with Samuel - she was dutiful in taking care of him, but a part of her was probably relieved when Holmes demanded that she leave him in Australia. And Russell has become her real daughter, come to that - once she knows Samuel planned to kill her, I think her forgiveness comes pretty easily. She'd probably hate Samuel for trying to kill Mary more than for his wanting to kill herself!


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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be quite so forgiving of someone killing her son, even if he has proved to be awful."

I agree with Merrily on this one. Mrs. Hudson hasn't seen Samuel in forty years or whatever, and really has no relationship with him. By comparison, she's basically been Mary's active mother-figure for the last ten years. So in the case of one of your children trying to kill the other and getting killed himself instead?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "Emily wrote: "Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be quite so forgiving of someone killing her son, even if he has proved to be awful."

I agree with Merrily on this one. Mrs. Hudson ..."


Yeah, that's a dilemma you wouldn't wish on any mother!


message 43: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments It does happen, now and then, of course. There is a family I am one degree removed from (coworker of coworker) where the son killed the father (serious mental health issues). I always thought that would be one of the most tragic things a family could experience.


Lenore | 1085 comments Pam wrote: "By way of getting my head around this: at the scene of Hudson’s death Holmes quickly comes to the conclusion that Mrs H has been dealt a bad hand in life and, if he reports the death, thinks she wi..."

I am dubious that Clarissa would even have come to trial. Holmes's truthful police report would have had to have been that What's-His-Name (I don't have the book with me) was trying to kill him (Holmes) and that Clarissa acted to save Holmes's life. Holmes being male and of the right class and education (despite his youth), I think it likely that the Coroner (and thus the Crown Prosecutor) would have ruled this "death by misadventure" or something similar and that there would have been no prosecution at all. Mind you, Clarissa would still have been an unemployed mother of an illegitimate child, thus without resources, but I think it unlikely that she would have been prosecuted for murder.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Pam wrote: "By way of getting my head around this: at the scene of Hudson’s death Holmes quickly comes to the conclusion that Mrs H has been dealt a bad hand in life and, if he reports the death, t..."

I agree, Lenore, I always thought that Holmes' assumption that she was headed for the gallows was a little extreme. Perhaps his thought is that, because of her record as a con artist, not to mention her working-class background, that she won't be given a fair hearing? But I do think his testimony (and his wound) would go a long way.
For that matter, I've been dubious as to whether it would have been necessary for Mrs. Hudson to go on the lamb after shooting her rotten ex-lover at the end of the book. My general feeling was, "Goodness, Mycroft is able to manipulate so many things, he couldn't manage to make those bullets disappear?"


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I think that Lenore has a point about class and gender having an impact but I wonder.... death by hanging didn’t go out for almost another 90 years in England and women were dealt with harshly (lawbreakers in general) in the 19th century.

Merrily I think you are right that Mycroft could surely have cleaned it all up but perhaps Mrs H was right: Lestrade would have pieced it all together. That would make an intriguing short story. I rather like the idea of Mrs H on the run to Monte Carlo.


message 47: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "Lenore wrote: "Perhaps his thought is that, because of her record as a con artist, not to mention her working-class background, that she won't be given a fair hearing?"

Did she actually have a record as a con artist, though? I don't remember that in the book?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "Merrily wrote: "Lenore wrote: "Perhaps his thought is that, because of her record as a con artist, not to mention her working-class background, that she won't be given a fair hearing?"

Did she act..."


Erin, I'm sure the police were aware of her activity with her father, even if they couldn't quite nail them.


message 49: by [deleted user] (new)

On another tack, do you think Mary was right to berate herself for never asking Mrs H about her own story? It seems to me that she should feel guilty about taking Mrs H for granted, although she was sufficiently alarmed as a 16 year old to search Mrs H’s rooms but not asking is par for the course for any child who is surprised by a parent’s backstory!

By the way I loved the ‘squinting at her through the smoke’ and the time he took to respond by Holmes when she told him what she had done to safeguard him. It reminded me of that final and wonderful scene in The Long Good Friday where Bob Hoskins’ many and fleeting expressions sum up the drama and his future.


message 50: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments Pam wrote: "On another tack, do you think Mary was right to berate herself for never asking Mrs H about her own story? It seems to me that she should feel guilty about taking Mrs H for granted...

Mary apparently was suspicious and curious about Mrs. H’s backstory but respectful enough to just satisfy that Mrs. H was not a threat to Holmes and therefore didn’t pry into her past. Mary was reluctant to delve too deep into her own story (Locked Rooms). Mary may have taken Mrs. H for granted to the extent that she would always be there to ask. I wish I had asked my own parents more about their pasts, especially my mother, whose story I only learned about after she died.



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