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Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Island of the Mad

by Laurie R. King

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Mary Russell (15)

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2022886,783 (3.91)32



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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
I've only read the first couple of books in this series so I've missed some elements of the character development between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. My wife has read them all and she's kept me abreast of which can be read out of order without spoiling things later on. I've always had a fascination with Italy and especially with Venice, so I was excited to check out this Mary/Sherlock novel with the canals of Venice as the backdrop. Naturally then, I was a little let down that it took about half the book to finally arrive in Italy. I wasn't upset or overly disappointed with the story but I was hoping for a bit more Italian intrigue.

The book starts out with a brief catch up of things mainly to set the stage and the state of Mary's mind. She's had a lot going on lately and so she's caught a little off guard (and perhaps also a little relieved) by a request from her old friend to help track down a missing person...her friend's aunt who disappeared from an asylum. Mary begins digging into the life of Aunt Vivian and the rest of her family. Slowly but surely she finds threads and hints of clues. In spite of very thorough and methodical searching it felt like any chance of success kept getting pulled away. Finally, about halfway through the book, Mary infers that dear Aunt Vivian may have run away to Venice and she heads off in pursuit.

As the series promises, this is a book about Mary Russell AND Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, Sherlock's interactions are sometimes more backgrounded and such is the case in this book. He helps with a little legwork here and there and gives Mary bits of advice and helps her work through ideas but for the most part, the case of the missing aunt is a case that Mary works through on her own. In fact, Sherlock has alternate motives for going to Italy. His brother has asked him to look into the "fascist" influence in the city. While Holmes helps Mary with a few inquiries he also makes his own inquiries and investigation into Mussolini's Blackshirt militia that's appearing in the city and keeping his eye out for the elusive British Lord planning to make a deal with Il Duce.

Without spoiling too much, the book ends with both Mary and Sherlock solving their case and melding the ends of the two cases together into a sort of slapstick finale.

To a large extent, I felt like this book was less a mystery and more an expose on the attitudes and behavior towards women in the early 1900s. Perhaps its the social climate in present times that makes this theme feel even more weighty in the book but it felt like the commentary, while truthful and well formulated, overshadowed the plotline of the book. As Mary searches for Vivian and learns more about her confinement in asylums we learn more about how prevalant it was for families (primarily the men) to send their "inconvenient" female relations to be "treated" in asylums. As the book uncovers more details about this practice and others in Vivian's family, the discussion felt like a distant echo of 21st century news.

Beyond the observations about women, another theme that skirted along the edges of the book was that of Mary's age and her life with Sherlock. Fortunately this theme was less overt than the feminist explorations but my problem with it was that I didn't feel it was satisfatorily surfaced enough to be resolved and as such I would have preferred it left out entirely. While there is clearly a significant age gap between Mary and Sherlock it's also been made clear that Mary is more interested in an intellectual connection than a physical one. As she interacts with people her own age in the social events of her age, it's clear from her behavior and thoughts that she's not interested in that kind of relationship so it felt odd that the question popped up from time to time.

The idea of seemingly mismatched relationships is explored in multiple times and multiple ways in the book. In one case the relationship is shown to be very successful. In another case it appears to be a relationship of convenience for both parties but it's hinted that maybe there's a bit more. The question of where Mary and Sherlock's relationship fits is one that just didn't feel well answered mainly because the question was left hanging. To me, their relationship feels great but for some reason the book left inklings of doubt fluttering at the surface making me wonder if perhaps there's an intent to either sever them or to drive a wedge between them and force them to come back stronger. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Overall I found the writing engaging, the attention to detail excellent and the story was entertaining. It reminded me in many ways of an original Conan Doyle Sherlock story. At the same time, I felt the book lacking in something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Missing person cases are naturally a little more slowly and with less tension than other mysteries and yet the pacing seemed adequate for the story being told. I think perhaps I wanted a little more interactive sleuthing with Holmes and Russell. In one brief scene they sneak onto a supposedly desert island with plans to break into a cabin there. That scene was still methodic and slower paced but was more engaging than many of the other mystery moments of the book. The tone was less mystery and more historic fiction. It was still a good read but I'd recommend earlier books in the series over this one.

3 out of 5 stars ( )
  theokester | Dec 28, 2018 |
I’ve been a fan of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series for years, but the last couple felt a little played out. This one, unfortunately, continued that trend. The younger Russell would have twigged on the reason for Lady Vivian’s “madness” long before this Mary Russell figured it out. I found myself shaking my head at her thickness by chapter 4. I think it’s time to move on. ( )
  patriciau | Dec 27, 2018 |

It was super fun to read a mystery set in Venice that isn't written by Donna Leon! If for no other reason then to get an American viewpoint on it.

However, it has a distressingly obvious plot structure. An old friend of Mary's disappears, and the disappearance is clearly due to her relationship with her family, and specifically her relationship with her brother. Gosh, I wonder where that is going and why that relationship is fraught. Along the way to that reveal (way too late in the book), we see a number of very odd communities, such as a set of rich party-goers and a reclusive women's group. Oh, also, the real-life character Cole Porter, which was triply strange.

Anyway, because the reveal was obvious to me, the best part of the book was the portal into what Italy was like in the days before WWII, with fascism taking hold. I'd certainly never thought of what it meant for Venice - as a relaxing vacation destination - to have war thrust upon it. In that sense, Porter's inclusion made a great deal of sense. (Still off-putting to have actual living beings in a mystery series, no matter how you swing it.) ( )
  khage | Dec 20, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book was written more in the style of King's earlier books in the series which is what I like. It was adventurous and had the Venetian backdrop to give it that exotic atmosphere. I'm glad she chose to revert back to her 'tried and true' method.

*Note: I was suppose to receive a hardcopy ARC from LibraryThing and the publisher months ago but never received it. ( )
  EmpressReece | Oct 27, 2018 |
In 1925, Sherlock Holmes and his much younger wife, Mary Russell, embark on an adventure that takes them to the scenic and enchanting city of Venice. Holmes and Russell search for thirty-four year old Lady Vivian Beaconsfield, the beloved aunt of Russell's old friend from Oxford, Ronnie Fitzwarren. Vivian disappeared after she secured a pass from Bethlem Royal Hospital (known colloquially as "Bedlam") to attend her half-brother's birthday celebration. Did she escape of her own free will or did someone abduct her? Edward, Vivian's half-brother, is short of cash and would love to get his hands on Vivian's money. Adding to the intrigue, Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft, believes that fascism is taking hold, not just in Italy, but also among certain Englishmen. He asks Sherlock to observe Mussolini's supporters in Venice and report on their activities.

In "Island of the Mad," Laurie King touches on such serious themes as the rise of right-wing demagoguery, society's ambivalent attitude towards the mentally ill, and the longing of women to take control of their property and destiny. This witty and, at times, humorous novel is enlivened by its references to such luminaries as Cole Porter and Elsa Maxwell, both of whom vacationed in Venice. Rich Americans like Porter and his wife loved to throw loud parties and flaunt their unconventional lifestyles. Meanwhile, Russell and Holmes spend large sums of money to obtain information and assistance; adopt various disguises while indulging in a bit of acting; and manage to insinuate themselves into the inner circles of both Porter and Maxwell.

This mystery is not King's most thrilling, and the villains are little more than one-dimensional brutes. However, the novel's appeal lies in its marvelous atmosphere, intriguing historical and cultural allusions, vivid descriptive writing, delightful sense of fun, and the camaraderie that make Sherlock and Mary such a fascinating couple. The author admits that she takes liberties with some of the facts, but she blends truth and fiction so entertainingly that the inaccuracies scarcely matter. "Island of the Mad" is a generally well-written caper, in which the legendary Sherlock Holmes and the energetic Mary Russell use their impressive bag of tricks to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. ( )
  booklover915 | Oct 9, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Laurie R. Kingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sterlin, JennyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The world is but a great Bedlam,
where those that are more mad lock up those that are less.
   - Thomas Tyron, 1689
To Mary Alice Kier
Fellow devotée of La Serenissima
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Sherlock Holmes and I stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing down sadly at the tiny charred corpse.
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Book description
A June summer’s evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend’s beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks—with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes—Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can’t say no.

... (From LaurieRKing.com)
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"Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes untangle the slippery threads of insanity and deadly secrets as they investigate a disappearance in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today." A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no. The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet she seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps? The trail leads Russell and Holmes through a lunatic asylum's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas.."--… (more)

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