I was not disappointed with the second novel in this (so far) intelligent series by Laurie R. King. In this novel, the author does an absolutely superb job of using the mystery to move the issues that the book contemplates. I would not go so far as to say that this is “message fiction” but the author certainly uses this to deal with issues that, while historical, nevertheless persist.
Our feisty protagonist, Mary Russell, is on the verge of moving into legal adulthood and obtaining access to the fortune of her deceased parents and at the same time, is nearing the end of her Oxford studies. While visiting a friend, Mary comes to meet Margery Childe, the charismatic leader of a local Christian Temple and suffragette and feminist. Mary is intrigued by Margery’s charisma and, as a Jewish scholar herself, Mary is interested in Margery’s interpretation of the Old Testament. Her interest quickly turns to suspicion as four of the women who attend at the temple are found dead under mysterious circumstances. Is Margery a mystic with a true connection to God or is she a charlatan using the rich women of the city to accomplish her personal goals.
This book dealt with a topic that I find to be of particular interest. While there is mystery to be unraveled, it at times serves as a subtext to the exploration of feminism and religion. Mary Russell is herself a woman and scholar of Judaism and she finds a companion in Margery Childe, an untrained and self taught scholar. The author uses the text of scripture to show how women and men should be treated equally within Christianity. She also refers to some interpretation that is intriguing. I do not know if the author created this as a device for the book or it is based on real, scholarly research. I am quite interested to find out.
On a personal note, as a Christian and father of two daughters, I am interested and invested in how religion treats women. I have always believed in the equal treatment of men and women and within religious circles and outside of them. I have often been called, usually with derision, a feminist. Insofar as a feminist is any person that believes and stands for equal treatment of sexes, I can be identified as such. This attitude has always puzzled me. It just so happens I attend a church that was founded by and is run by a woman. It seems to me that this would not have been possible or accepted but for, at least in part, the efforts of feminists through the ages. This book in my opinion make a convincing argument on how a some forms of feminism benefited the church and as a result, society. Anyone who reads this review and can recommend some books that deal with the convergence of feminism and religion, please do so!
I think that some readers of the first book will find this one to be a disappointment. The story is essentially about Mary Russell and features Sherlock Holmes very little. The story was really meant to allow Mary to come into her own. I was not at all disappointed with the story focus but I can appreciate how some may dislike it.
In the end, I could not give this 5 stars. The author has taken the overall plot in a direction that I think is rather absurd. It is a mild spoiler so I will avoid referring to it specifically. To me, it doesn’t ring true and is not necessary.
Can this Book Stand Alone
Yes BUT I would recommend reading number 1 first. It does an excellent job of creating and developing the characters that I think would be doing yourself a disservice by skipping it.
Another impressive offering from this author. In my opinion, the social commentary is interesting and while, the novel’s setting is historical, the issues ring true today. This is not for the reader who loves a breezy mystery or a faced paced read. The pacing is deliberate, there is substantial character development and there are issues to make the reader ponder. If this sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend this series.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations. When reviewing language, mild obscenities are words like, shit, hell or damn. Religious exclamations are words such as Christ or Jesus when used as profanity.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 1.5
Kissing. That would be about it. There is some whispered discussion about some sexual dalliances but overall the content is quite chaste.
Language – 2
The language remains mild. Most of the characters are religious and frown on such things a swearing.
Violence – 2.5
There are several murders but they not are described graphically. Several women are beaten and some rather seriously. Another is threatened with violence. The violence tends not be disturbing.