King, Laurie R - 'Garment of Shadows'
The odour of smoke, and wool. A memory of mint on the tongue: the suq. I started to throw off the bedclothes, discovering simultaneously that there were no bedclothes and that my head strenuously objected to sudden movements. My fingers tugged at the rough wool, found it was a garment - ah, the brown robe from the hook in the small room. With that the previous day slid into place: the dappled reality of wandering a labyrinth of dim, tight foot-paths, as if I had been set down into a world of tunnelling creatures. Into a beehive.
A woman wakes in a simple bed in a small room with her head aching. The pain makes her feel sick. Where is she? Examining the contents of her pocket: grains of sand, a stone, a pair of broken spectacles, she notices that her hand is stained with something dark and greasy. Blood. She gets up and opens the window. She is looking out onto a world of tight alleyways, stained plaster walls and narrow wooden doors. A woman swathed in long robes walks past with a young child. The sounds of Arabic and French being spoken drift up to her. Very well. She is somewhere in a North African town. But - who is she?
Taking a brown robe from a hook on the door, she ventures out into the passageway and towards a courtyard. But before she can cross into the light the sound of commotion and the sight of two French soldiers at the door sends her rushing back and up towards the roof; she feels compelled to escape and hide. From the rooftop she drops down to a deserted house, into its decrepit courtyard, then out into the alleyways of the surrounding suq. Now she begins a day and night's journey with nothing but her wits and a scrap of paper from her pocket to help her rediscover what has happened to her. She meets the young mute boy who insists on guiding her to a house, one of the residencies of the French Governor. This is Morocco. At the house she is confronted by two men, one seems hostile and the other, an older man, calls her by name: "Mary Russell". Then the older man explains that he is her husband and that his name is Sherlock Holmes.
GARMENT OF SHADOWS, King's latest "Mary Russell" novel, takes up its story and location from where the previous novel, PIRATE KING, ended. In Morocco of 1924 the inhabitants of the Rif region are beginning their revolt against Morocco's French and Spanish governors. Mary has continued her work for Fflytte Films and is currently on set, filming in the sand dunes of the North African desert. One night a young boy comes to Mary's tent and Mary is last seen taking his hand and disappearing into the desert night. For those new to the series, the gripping and original start of GARMENT OF SHADOWS introduces us to Mary Russell as much much as it introduces Mary to herself. I've enjoyed King's writing for years but had held off from the Mary Russell series, unsure of how I would get on with the concept of the partner and wife of Sherlock Holmes taking up where Holmes and Watson left off. It has become a long-running series, but the good news is that I don't think you need to have read previous titles to enjoy each book in its own right. I shall certainly look forward to what I feel in my bones is a confrontation brewing between Mary and Sherlock's "eminence grise" brother, the manipulative Mycroft.
GARMENT OF SHADOWS is written in a different tone from PIRATE KING - which contains a degree of pastiche on the swash-buckling films of the 1920s. In this latest novel Mary works alongside her husband Sherlock Holmes to a much greater degree. Nevertheless she finds herself in a good deal of trade-mark, nail-biting situations where her heroic resourcefulness alone can save both herself and "the day". This is a more sober and political novel, more espionage than whodunnit and quite literally a "cloak and dagger" adventure. I recommend it for those who like their crime laced with social and political background. King manages to amalgamate her research into place and period seamlessly and this adventurous slice of life in early twentieth century colonial North Africa during the rise of a nationalist, anti-colonial movement throws an interesting light on a region that has come into the contemporary spotlight with the events of the "Arab Spring" and what has followed.
Lynn Harvey, England