‘A Monstrous Regiment of Women’ by Laurie R. King is the second in a series of Mary Russell novels featuring Sherlock Holmes. I read the first one early last year, although ‘read’ is a highly debated term among readers when one receives the story through audiobooks. The narrator took certain facts too seriously and the depiction of Sherlock was rather sub-par to an otherwise all right narration.
I decided to read this series because I’d been attracted to the title of a later installment of the currently ten book series (‘God of the Hive’) and found myself interested in the idea of Sherlock Holmes with a wife that went along on his adventures.
The first book had its faults, such as the fact that the main character was first sixteen and then nineteen (I’m not a huge fan of teenagers), and I had a hard time believing that a sixty year old Sherlock would bother himself with a pubescent girl that I was not convinced was all that interesting yet. Still, I decided to give the series a second chance and picked this one up in paperback.
I was right that this book was much improved by my own reading voice than listening to it. It ended up being a rather good book, but it had its own faults to contend with. Firstly, I have a hard time staying interested in period literature that depicts religion and feminism as main features of the story and this book was a hybrid of both. I don’t know if it’s because it’s old hat here in 2012 that women should have rights, or that I have no interest in specific religion because I favor spirituality, or because I’m simply a heartless wretch over all, but I just wasn’t revved up by a story founded on these features. I found myself really wanting to skip to the parts with Sherlock, since the dawning realization of man-woman between them in this book was vastly preferable to a feminist evangelist.
However, the last third of the book is brilliant. King’s style is a rather good recitation of facts with occasional unique lines that are truly gems. However, the writing seemed a tad grueling until the subject matter had absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. Suddenly, I was very immersed in every moment, because the subject matter was now very fascinating and well-done, proving that King is actually a wonderful writer when I’m interested. I am hoping that the next book will be wholly more interesting, even though I have since come to understand that the author is a feminist and, of course, the main character is not only Jewish, but majored in theology. I will run into these subjects through out the series, but if I made it through this book then I can handle the others.
I mentioned before that I had a hard time believing their partnership in the first book, but I had no issues at all with their relationship in this one. There is a deeply believable camaraderie between Holmes and Russell that I enjoyed, so no worries there. There is only one fatal flaw in the series as a whole that will never change. The age gap between Sherlock and Mary.
I am a big advocate of age gap romances, so when things happened between the two of them in this book, it was a natural and enjoyable. Sherlock looks and acts much more like a 45 year old than a man of 60. I’m agitated by the seemingly arbitrary age given to the man and strongly feel like he is this age merely because King wanted to write in this specific time period (1920+), not because the character actually follows this in any way.
I realize this review is going on and on, but I want to add in one last thing. There is a miniature interview with the author in the back of the book and there was one thing she said that is absolutely true and I have long agreed with. She pointed out a curious thing about writing historical books. They are, typically, real or realistic. She pointed out that if you find a book written in the time, there is virtually no reference to anything that distinguishes it from the time period; it is simplistic, ‘real’, and therefore timeless. However, if a book is written now, but set in an earlier time period, readers crave validation and the author must throw in slang, historical details, and culture to do so, therefore it is ‘realistic’. Just an interesting truth.
Over all, I liked this novel and will definitely check out the next book soon.