The Game (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #7)

The Game (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #7)

4.4 48
by Laurie R. King

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It’s only the second day of 1924, but Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, find themselves embroiled in intrigue. It starts with a New Year’s visit from Holmes’s brother Mycroft, who comes bearing a strange package containing the papers of an English spy named Kimball O’Hara—the same Kimball known to the world


It’s only the second day of 1924, but Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, find themselves embroiled in intrigue. It starts with a New Year’s visit from Holmes’s brother Mycroft, who comes bearing a strange package containing the papers of an English spy named Kimball O’Hara—the same Kimball known to the world through Kipling’s famed Kim. Inexplicably, O’Hara withdrew from the “Great Game” of espionage and now he has just as inexplicably disappeared.

When Russell discovers Holmes’s own secret friendship with the spy, she knows the die is cast: she will accompany her husband to India to search for the missing operative. But Russell soon learns that in this faraway and exotic land, it’s often impossible to tell friend from foe—and that some games aren’t played for fun but for the highest stakes of all…life and death.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"May well be the best King has devised yet…. The sights, smells and ideas of India make interesting, evocative reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A rousing  adventure story made credible by the sheer force of its characters'  personalities and the sharply realized details of their  surroundings. Good historical fiction is as close as we'll ever get  to time travel, and historical fiction doesn't get any better than  this."—The Denver Post

"A wondrously taut mystery, ticking away like a malevolent clock."—Booklist (starred review)

"Splendid...perhaps the rippingest of all Russell's ripping tales."—Seattle Times

The New York Times
Whatever this grueling land journey lacks in urgency, it repays in scenes of vibrant local color, described by Russell in the droll tongue of a woman with the wit to realize that, while she may be dirty and tired and in constant danger, she is having the time of her life. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
The seventh Mary Russell adventure (after 2002's Justice Hall) may well be the best King has yet devised for her strong-willed heroine. It's 1924, and Kimball O'Hara, the "Kim" of the famous Rudyard Kipling novel, has disappeared. Fearing some kind of geopolitical crisis in the making, Mycroft Holmes sends his brother and Mary to India to uncover what happened. En route, they encounter the insufferable Tom Goodheart-a wealthy young American who has embraced Communism-traveling with his mother and sister to visit his maharaja friend, Jumalpandra ("Jimmy"), an impossibly rich and charming ruler of the (fictional) Indian state of Khanpur. With some local intelligence supplied by Geoffrey Nesbit, an Englishman of the old school, and accompanied by Bindra, a resourceful orphan, the couple travel incognito as native magicians (Mary, it goes without saying, learns Hindi on the voyage out). Ultimately, their journey intersects with the paths of the Goodhearts and the mysterious Jimmy. At times, travelogue and cultural history trump plot, but the sights, smells and ideas of India make interesting, evocative reading (Mary's foray into the dangerous sport of pig-sticking is particularly fascinating). If for some Mary Russell is too perfect a character to be as enduringly compelling as Holmes, all readers will appreciate the grace and intelligence of King's writing in this exotic masala of a book. (Mar. 2) FYI: King's latest stand-alone mystery is Keeping Watch (Forecasts, Feb. 3, 2003). Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In their eighth delightful adventure (after Keeping Watch), Mycroft Holmes sends his brother, Sherlock, and Sherlock's wife, Mary Russell, to India to investigate the disappearance of master spy Kimball O'Hara, the legendary "Kim" made famous by Rudyard Kipling. Holmes had actually met Kim many years earlier, during his own disappearance after Reichenbach Falls. Did Kim vanish of his own accord, or was he killed or captured by an enemy? Naturally, Holmes and Russell decide to assume various disguises in the course of their journey, including that of a stage magician and his grubby assistant. Along the way, they meet a wealthy and unstable maharajah, an innocent American girl, and a hard-working stable boy. Showing an impressive attention to detail, King's intense descriptions will make readers feel as if they, too, are on a vital mission in India. Riveting from start to finish, this novel is essential for most public libraries and academic libraries that collect popular fiction. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/03.]-Laurel Bliss, Princeton Univ. Lib., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Once apprentice, now investigator, Mary Russell travels to India in 1925 with her former mentor, now husband, Sherlock Holmes. In this seventh adventure, the duo is searching for Kimball O'Hara, the Kim of Rudyard Kipling's eponymous novel. On a mission from Sherlock's brother Mycroft, long involved in British espionage, they are tasked with finding Kim or evidence of his status as victim or traitor. Sailing to India on a luxury liner, they meet an American family with a debutante daughter, a social-climbing mother, and a left-leaning son, who of course reappear at a strategic moment. Upon their arrival, Mary and Sherlock disguise themselves as native traveling magicians and seek out an anti-English and very sadistic maharaja, "Jimmy." With her usual thorough research, King imbues the mystery with lots of historical detail and a real sense of time and place. This is one of the best in the series and can easily be read on its own, though readers will then want to go back and see how the strange, but surprisingly plausible, meeting and union between a young Mary and a considerably older Holmes actually occurs. Likewise, a previous reading of Kim is unnecessary, but teens will likely be intrigued enough to go on to read that as well. A sure bet for mystery lovers and historical fiction fans.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mary Russell and her hubby the beekeeper slog through India in the thinly plotted seventh of this Sherlockian series (Justice Hall, 2002, etc.). Though legally espoused to the great detective, Mary still insists on answering to Miss Russell. Considering how diminished a figure her husband's become in these pastiches, is that a foreshadowing? Will the day arrive when the once iconic Holmes tamely answers to Mr. Russell? Squirmy thought, and yet clearly this, even more than any of its forerunners, is Mary's book, with Holmes turning up now and again like an ex-star athlete at an old-timer's event. New Year's Day 1924 finds Russell and Holmes comfy in their "snug stone house on the Sussex Downs" (oh beekeeper, where is thy stinger?)-an idyll, however, about to end abruptly. Mycroft, Holmes's older, allegedly smarter, brother, whose work in behalf of the Empire is ceaseless if largely unchronicled, has a mission in mind. The pair is to rescue Kim-yes, Kimball O'Hara, the hero of Kipling's children's story, now a valued agent of British intelligence, who's suddenly gone missing. Accepting as always Mycroft's mission, Russell and Holmes march off to find the purloined Kim. But what a draggy march it is, hobbled by space-filling digressions and inelegant backstory, until topped off at the end by some non-ratiocinative razzle-dazzle. Where are you when we need you, Dr. Watson? The game may be afoot, but the pace is mostly funereal. Agency: Linda Allen Literary Agency

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series , #7
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.28(w) x 5.22(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Travel broadens, they say. My personal experience has been that, in the short term at any rate, it merely flattens, aiming its steam-roller of deadlines and details straight at one's daily life, leaving a person flat and gasping at its passage.

On the first of January, 1924, I was enjoying a peaceful New Year's evening with my partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes, in our snug stone house on the Sussex Downs, blissfully unaware that scarcely forty hours later I would be sprinting desperately for a train across a snow-covered railway siding. But on the first day of the new year, I was at peace and I was at home, with a full stomach, a tipsy head, and—most pleasant of all—warm feet. No fewer than three bottles of wine stood on the sideboard, in various stages of depletion. Holmes had just taken a connoisseur's sip of the last to appear in our glasses, a dusty port twice as old as I. He sighed in satisfaction and stretched his slippers out to the fire.

"It is good to find that the French vineyards are recovering from the War," he noted, although of the three wines, only the champagne had gone into its bottle since 1918.

I agreed, rather absently I will admit. As I took a swallow of the glorious liquid, it occurred to me that some part of the back of my mind was braced for a ring of the telephone or a furious pounding on the door. The visceral mistrust of leisure was perhaps understandable: Twice in the past six months the outside world had crashed in on us; indeed, we had been similarly seated before the fire one evening a scant two months earlier when an investigation literally fell into our arms, in the form of an old friend with a bloodied head. It was not yet midnight, and I had no faith in our stout oaken door to keep out surprises of the kind Holmes tended to attract.

However, pleasantly enough, no pounding fist came to trouble our companionship or, later, our slumber, and we rose early the next morning, fortified ourselves with one of Mrs. Hudson's hearty breakfasts (this one even more elaborate than usual, to make up for her being cheated of preparing the dinner for this, my twenty-fourth birthday), and bundled into our warmest clothes for the sleet-drenched trip to London. We rode the train in silence, taken up with our thoughts and with the newspapers, both as cheerless as the landscape outside the windows. Foot-and-mouth disease, the rising Seine, and doomsayers with apocalyptic predictions on both sides of the Atlantic, set off by the recent Labour victory.

Grimmer yet was the real reason for our visit to the great city. We had no end of business there, of course, from a long-delayed appointment with the bank manager to calling on a noble family in order to follow up on our most recently concluded investigation, but in truth, we were there to see Holmes' brother Mycroft, whose health was giving, as the euphemism goes, cause for concern.

He was home from hospital already, although the doctors had strongly advised against it, and embarked on his own programme of therapy. I personally wouldn't have thought a near-starvation diet of meat and red wine combined with long hours of vigorous calisthenics would be the best thing for a shaky heart, but not even Holmes' arguments made much of an inroad on Mycroft's determination. We had maintained a closer contact with him than usual over the past week and a half, none of us voicing the thought that each visit could well be our last. We hurried through the day's business, I listening with half an ear to the urgent recitation of calamity that trembled over the head of my American possessions, thinking only that, affection for my father or not, the time had come to rid myself of his once-cherished properties across the sea. I kept glancing at my wrist-watch, until finally with a sigh my solicitor threw up metaphorical hands, gave me the papers that required my signature, and allowed me to escape.

When we arrived at Mycroft's door, however, I had to admit that his self-prescribed fitness regime did not seem to be doing him any harm. He was up and around, and if he opened the door in his slippers and dressing-gown, he moved without hesitation and had colour in his face. There was also nearly a stone less of him than there had been on Christmas Day, which made his jowls flaccid and his eyes more hooded than usual.

"Many happy returns of the day, Mary," he said, and to Holmes, "I believe you'll find a corkscrew on the tray, if you'd be so kind." After toasts came the inevitable discussion of the impending disaster that the new Labour government was certain to bring in. Predictions were rife, that the institution of marriage was sure to be done away with, that rubles would replace the pound sterling, the Boy Scouts and the monarchy would be abolished, the House of Lords sold for housing flats—everything short of plagues and rains of frogs. There were strong rumours that the Prime Minister would refuse to step down to Labour's minority vote, thus igniting a constitutional crisis if not outright revolution; the newspapers that morning had mentioned the concern of America, politeness thinly concealing Washington's growing alarm. When I said something of the sort, Mycroft nodded.

"Yes, the Americans are becoming increasingly nervous about the Reds. They seem to envision a Socialist state that stretches from London to Peking, and don't know whether to be more worried about the Bolsheviks succeeding, or about the chaos that will follow if they fail."

When we had exhausted the various topics, we sat down to a meal only marginally less sumptuous than one of Mycroft's usual, accompanied by what passed for small talk and polite conversation in the Holmes household, in this case an interesting development in forensic science from America and a nice murder that was baffling the authorities. Dessert was a small decorated cake, which none of us ate.

The pouring of coffee, offer of brandy, and fingering of cigars indicated that the meal was finished, business could be resumed. The talk circled back through the Labour victory and the huge problems facing a minority government, before Mycroft took a last, ritual mouthful from his cup, put it onto the table, and asked, "Have you been following the news from Russia?"

My head snapped up as if he'd hauled back on my reins—which in a way, he had: I knew him far too well to think his question innocent. "No!" I said sharply, before things could edge one syllable further down that slippery slope. "I absolutely refuse to go to Moscow in January."

He made a show of shifting feebly in his chair, letting out a quiet sigh of infirmity before he looked up. "I said nothing about Moscow."

"Siberia, then. Some place either deadly or freezing, or both."

He abandoned the attempt at innocence. "I would go myself," he tried, but at my disbelieving snort and Holmes' raised eyebrow, he dropped that as well. All the world knew that Mycroft Holmes went nowhere outside his tightly worked circle if he could possibly avoid it: Dr Watson had once referred to Mycroft's unexpected appearance in their Baker Street flat as akin to finding a tram-car running down a country lane.

It did, however, answer a question that had been in the back of my mind ever since the general election, namely, how would the radical change in government affect Mycroft? Mycroft's role in the outgoing Tory government was as undefined as it was enormous; it seemed he intended to simply ignore the shuffling of office-holders all around him.

"What has happened, Mycroft?" Holmes asked, drawing my attention back to the until-now overlooked fact that, if Mycroft, in his condition, had been consulted on a matter by whichever government, it had to have struck someone as serious indeed.

By way of answer, the big man reached inside the folds of his voluminous silken dressing-gown and pulled out a flat, oilskin-wrapped packet about three inches square. He put it onto the linen cloth and pushed it across the table in our direction. "This came into my hands ten hours ago."

Holmes retrieved the grimy object, turned it over, and began to pick apart the careful tucks. The oilskin had clearly been folded in on itself for some time, but parted easily, revealing a smaller object, a leather packet long permeated by sweat, age, and what appeared to be blood. This seemed to have been sewn shut at least two or three times in its life. The most recent black threads had been cut fairly recently, to judge by their looseness; no doubt that explained the easy parting of the oilskin cover. Holmes continued unfolding the leather.

Inside lay three much-folded documents, so old the edges were worn soft, their outside segments stained dark by long contact with the leather. I screwed up my face in anticipation of catastrophe as Holmes began to unfold the first one, but the seams did not actually part, not completely at any rate. He eased the page open, placing a clean tea-spoon at its head and an unused knife at its foot to keep it flat, and slid it over for me to examine as he set to work on the second.

The stained document before me seemed to be a soldier's clearance certificate, and although the name, along with most of the words, was almost completely obscured by time and salt, it looked to belong to a K-something O'Meara, or O'Mara. The date was unreadable, and could as easily have been the 1700s as the past century—assuming they issued clearance certificates in the 1700s. I turned without much hope to the second document. This was on parchment, and although it appeared even older than the first and had been refolded no less than four times into different shapes, it had been in the center position inside the leather pouch, and was not as badly stained. It concerned the same soldier, whose last name now appeared to be O'Hara, and represented his original enlistment. I could feel Mycroft's eyes on me, but I was no more enlightened than I had been by the certificate representing this unknown Irishman's departure from Her Majesty's service.

Holmes had the third document unfolded, using the care he might have given a first-century papyrus. He made no attempt to weigh down the edges of this one, merely let the soft, crude paper rest where it would lest it dissolve into a heap of jigsaw squares along the scored folds. I craned my head to see the words; Holmes, however, just glanced at the pages, seeming to lose interest as soon as he had freed them. He sat aside and let me look to my heart's content.

This was a birth certificate, for a child born in some place called Ferozepore in the year 1875. His father's name clarified the difficulties of the K-something from the other forms: Kimball.

I looked up, hoping for an explanation, only to find both sets of grey Holmes eyes locked expectantly onto me. How long, I wondered, before I stopped feeling like some slow student facing her disappointed headmistress? "I'm sorry," I began, and then I paused, my mind catching at last on a faint sense of familiarity: Kimball. And O'Hara. Add to that a town that could only be in India. . . . No; oh, no—the book was just a children's adventure tale. "I'm sorry," I repeated, only where before it had connoted apology, this time it was tinged with outrage. "This doesn't have anything to do with Kim, does it? The Kipling book?"

"You've read it?" Mycroft asked.

"Of course I've read it."

"Good, that saves some explaining. I believe this to be his amulet case."

"He's real, then? Kipling's boy?"

"As real as I am," said Sherlock Holmes. "And yes, this is his amulet. I recognize it."

"You know him?" I don't know why this revelation startled me as if he'd claimed to have met a hippogryph; heavens, half the world considered Holmes fictional. But startle me it did.

"I knew him, long ago. We spent the better part of a year in each other's company."


He smiled to himself. "While I was dead."

I knew my husband and partner was not referring to some spiritualist experience of a previous lifetime. "When I was dead" was his whimsical term for the period beginning in the spring of 1891, when he disappeared at Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, and for three years wandered the globe, returning to London only when a mysterious murder called him back to the land of the living. Knowing that Mycroft had preserved his Baker Street rooms for him during those three years, and knowing what Mycroft was, I had no doubt that at least a portion of that time, Holmes had been about the Queen's business. Still, I had never heard the details.

I was not to hear them now, either. Holmes had already turned to his brother, and was asking, "How did these come to you?"

"Through the hands of a certain captain who has an interest in both worlds."

"Not Creighton?"

"The man who currently holds the same position that Creighton did then, fellow by the name of Nesbit."

"And the story that accompanied them?"

"So tenuous as to be nonexistent. An Afghan trader brings a rumour that a light-skinned native man is being held by a hill raja. Six months later, a camel caravan modifies the story, that the man was being held but took ill and died, asking that these, his last effects, be returned to his people. We did trace the amulet's arrival to such a caravan, but no man could say who had carried it south, or whence it came."

Holmes nodded, but said only, "I find it difficult to imagine that particular individual being held against his will."

I broke in, with a request I did not think unreasonable, particularly as we seemed to be on the edge of being dragged into a case involving Kimball O'Hara. "I'd appreciate a little background information, just a few details about what you were doing when you knew the boy."

Holmes glanced sideways at his brother, assessing his condition, then suggested, "Perhaps it would be best if we saved the tale for a later time."

I started to protest, then decided that Mycroft's colour was indeed not peak, and brought my curiosity under control, allowing them to continue.

Mycroft answered, "As you say, it takes some doing to imagine O'Hara in custody for more than a few days. He was—how did you put it to me? 'Wily as a mongoose, slippery as a cobra, more deadly than

either.' "

"If not in custody, then what?"

"The Bear is awakening."

" 'The Bear,' " I said. "You mean Russia? But I thought our relations with them had settled down—don't we even have a trade agreement now with the Bolsheviks?"

Meet the Author

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, the Stuyvesant & Grey novels Touchstone and The Bones of Paris, and the acclaimed A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. She lives in Northern California.

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Game (Mary Russell Series #7) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
lanlynk More than 1 year ago
In this book, the Russell and Holmes are sent by Mycroft to India in search of a lost spy, the grown-up Kim of Rudyard Kipling fame. He’s as real as Sherlock Holmes himself. The Game refers to the espionage between England and Russia, as well as the big game animal hunts. Great descriptions of India, its various classes, power struggles, and its relations with other countries. A good adventure, great characters. King’s books are filled with detail and sometimes the pace drags, but they’re definitely worth reading. This is one of my favorites in this series.
Avid-FLA-reader More than 1 year ago
As usual, well written and extremely compelling. Makes you want to know what happens next. I have immensely enjoyed this Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. Don't want it to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the part where Mary and Sherlock went to see how Mycroft was doing after his recent heart attack.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Game" as in Kipling's Great Game as told in his novel "Kim" - Russell and Holmes are tasked to locate Kimball O'Hara. As usual, things don't necessarily go as planned. The story ends with ONE long-term change for our heroes to adjust to in future adventures...
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting story and concept. Different from similar types of stories. My daughter gives the series five stars.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So attracts holmes he supports and waits till she is of age to marry a may and october if not quite a december however this remains a very weird marriage one might think she seems more boy than girl his apprentice she goes from an abusive home to situations equally abusive forced lessons and physical hurt which holmes seems to avoid and dependent on mycroft too
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Denverhawkeye More than 1 year ago
I love the other Mary Russell books. I did not love this one. Seemed like one long tease to get to "Kim" and then minimal story on the most intriguing character.
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LKat60 More than 1 year ago
Laurie King takes Sherlock Holmes and makes him better.
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DEH1679 More than 1 year ago
I have read several of Laurie King's other books, and each one gets better and better. She is a fatastic story teller and has the knack for making you feel you are actually watching the plot unfold. Anyone who loves a good mystery without the gore will love these books. I will be back for more. Also love the idea of Holmes being married, now isn't that a mystery unto itself?
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