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A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King
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A Letter of Mary (original 1996; edition 2001)

by Laurie R. King

Series: Mary Russell (3), Mary Russell {Chronological Order} (August-September 1923)

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2,391664,409 (3.88)98
The year is 1923 and Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell receive a visit from Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archaeologist. She shows them a scrap of ancient writing that is supposedly Mary Magdalene's. Soon afterwards she is murdered - but why?
Member:LaurieRKing
Title:A Letter of Mary
Authors:Laurie R. King
Info:HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2001), Paperback, 352 pages
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A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (1996)

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Melancholic but strangely compelling

"A Letter Of Mary" is the third book in the Mary Russell series and the first one in which we see how Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes function as a married couple.

They are both formidable people: Holmes, in his sixties, almost retired from a career he made largely in the previous century, but still with a restless hunger for the intriguing; Russell, an independent, wealthy, woman in her twenties, with a passion for scholarship and a tendency to lose herself in her books for days at a time. The two of them with an almost decade-long relationship that has moved from master and apprentice, through professional partnership and on to a marriage that is, to both of them, the defining aspect of their lives and yet the part of it that have the least knowledge and experience of.

They are serious, capable, responsible people. They can be intimidating, a fact they often take advantage of. They practice deception ruthlessly in the pursuit of their prey. Yet, together, they can laugh at their own hauteur and theatrics and they know each other so well that deception between them is impossible.

In "A Letter Of Mary" Russell and Holmes work to find the murderer of a friend, yet they spend most of their time apart, pursuing different prey and restricted in contacting each other because of the personae they have adopted for the hunt.

I found the overall tone of the book to be quite melancholic. The sources of the melancholy speak to the quality of the story-telling and character-building. The killing of Russell's friend carries a real weight of loss at possibilities ended and produces an indignant anger, that sometimes flairs into wrath, at those who would take a life. This something that is often missing from detectives stories where the dead are just body-shaped puzzles to be solved. The second source of melancholy comes from the attacks on Russell and Holmes' way of living: their home is violated, they are separated for the first time in their marriage, they are forced to confront the new fear they now have of losing each other.

Russel and Holmes push through this melancholy with intellect and courage, powered by a strong sense of obligation to the dead woman and a refusal to give in to those who act against them. They are a source of strength to each other and their love is as deeply serious as everything else in their lives. I found it refreshing to see a commitment based on knowledge of the other person rather than a fog of romantic imaginings and hopes.

The plot revolves around the death of an older woman, a Gertrude Bell sort of woman, who runs archaeological digs in the Middle East and occasionally acts in the service of the Crown.

There are multiple possible murderers to be hunted. Russell's hunt requires her to take on the persona of Mary Small and work as a secretary for a Colonel well known for his temper and his misogyny. Although this experience appears to require Russell to become someone else, the process and her reactions to the men she meets causes her to learn a great deal more about herself.

Much of the action in this book takes place off stage. The characters spend a great deal of time sitting together, sharing information and debating conclusions. The fights and threats of the two previous books are absent. I found this change of pace both refreshing and credible.

I believe that, with this book, the series crossed over the threshold where I will be less interested in the plots of the individual books and more concerned with the development of the relationship between Russell and Holmes and the insights they have into life and how it should be lived along the way. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Sep 8, 2020 |
Wonderful book, great characters, amazing foundation. Can't recommend it too highly. ( )
  rodweston | Apr 23, 2020 |
This mystery begins with a visit from an old friend. Miss Dorothy Ruskin is an amateur archaeologist that Mary and Sherlock met when they were in Palestine. Miss Ruskin has an interesting gift for Mary. She has brought her a papyrus that is purported to me written by Mary Magdalene which shows that she was one of Jesus's apostles. This would be epic if it were true. The changes to the Christian churches would be immense. Miss Ruskin had shown it to two experts who declared it false but neither Miss Ruskin or Mary are willing to dismiss it. The papyrus is in an old Italian inlaid box which presents a mystery of its own.

A couple of days later, Sherlock reads a notice in a London paper asking if anyone knows the identity of a woman dead in a hit-and-run. It is Miss Ruskin which involves Mary and Sherlock in trying to find out if it was an accident or murder. And, if it was murder, finding out who murdered Mary's friend.

The suspects range from her family to the potential supporters of her next archaeological dig and may involve politics in Palestine. Mary and Sherlock call in Mycroft and the latest Inspector Lestrade to help them and each goes undercover to uncover the clues.

I enjoyed the setting. Many of the characters were interesting people including Colonel Dennis Edwards who is one of the group who were planning to support Miss Ruskin's next dig. Even though he couldn't be more misogynistic, Mary finds him attractive and somehow likable. I liked some of the walk-ons like a brief mention of Tolkien and possibly Lord Peter Wimsey. I also liked seeing how Holmes and Russell's marriage is progressing. ( )
  kmartin802 | Jun 17, 2019 |
The year is 1923, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is at their home in Sussex Downs busy with their studies. Russell with theology and Holmes with some chemical experiments. Then they are visited by amateur archaeologist Miss Dorothy Ruskin with a startling puzzle for them. She has found in the Holy Land a roll of papyrus with a message from Mary Magdalene. A couple of days is Miss Ruskin killed in a traffic accident. But was it really an accident.

The case in this book is intriguing with an ancient papyrus claimed to be written by Mary Magdalene and the death of Miss Ruskin. Was she murdered? And, if she was murdered, why? It’s up to Russell and Holmes to find out the truth.

Like the previous two books a great story. I love the theology part of the story, with a papyrus that could very well be written by Mary Magdalene. I love how Laurie R. King manages to combine theology with crime, just like in the previous book. ( )
  MaraBlaise | May 19, 2019 |
Mary Russell has noted the tell-tale signs of boredom in her husband, Sherlock Holmes, when his mind is not being stimulated with a case. His malaise ends when the couple receives an unexpected visit from a former acquaintance, Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archeologist. Ms. Ruskin is seeking Mary's assistance in authenticating and translating a 1st century papyrus letter reportedly written by Mary Magdalene. Leaving the letter with Russell, she returns to London only to be killed in an apparent hit-in-run accident. However, when the couple begins looking into the accident they begin to believe that it was murder.

Although I do enjoy Laurie King's writing and the relationship between Holmes and Russell, I believe that Sherlock Holmes himself summed up this novel at the end when he tells Russell, "I had such hope for this case...it's hardly worthy of any attention." ( )
1 vote John_Warner | Nov 19, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
King, Laurie R.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sterlin, JennyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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... I would terrify you by letters. (The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 10:9)
Dedication
For my brother Leahcim Drawde Nosdrahcir and his family, from his sister Eiraul Eel.
First words
The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The year is 1923 and Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell receive a visit from Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archaeologist. She shows them a scrap of ancient writing that is supposedly Mary Magdalene's. Soon afterwards she is murdered - but why?

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