A Monstrous Regiment of Women: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

A Monstrous Regiment of Women: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

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by Laurie R. King
     
 

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Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award

It is 1921 and Mary Russell--Sherlock Holmes's brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology--is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper

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Overview

Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award

It is 1921 and Mary Russell--Sherlock Holmes's brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology--is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell's attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn in A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
King's second mystery tale of a young woman who's a protg of Sherlock Holmes. (Dec.)
Library Journal
King "found" this sequel to The Beekeeper's Apprentice (St. Martin's, 1994) in a trunk, presumably the property of narrator Mary Russell. Mary once again tells of her partnership with Sherlock Holmes, a juxtaposition of her youth (age almost 21) and Holmes's advanced middle age (59). Using disguise, guile, and ruse, Mary investigates murders in the inner clique of feminist preacher Margery Childe. Holmes assists, but the focus here is on Mary. The semiconvoluted, finely crafted late-Victorian prose is buttressed with exacting mots justes and surrounded by a nicely re-created 1920s London. A unique look at Holmes; for all collections.
School Library Journal
YA-Mary Russell, the apprentice to Sherlock Holmes first encountered in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (St. Martins, 1994), has established her own regime in and around Oxford just after World War I. Still drawn to Holmes, but seeking her own identity and the furtherance of women's rights, she pursues her studies as well as a case concerning wealthy young women and their spiritual mentor, Margery Childe. While captivated and encouraged by Margery's sermons and good works, Mary can't help wondering why several of these women have recently passed away, leaving much of their estates to Margery's association. She alternately seeks out and rebuffs Holmes. Mary has lost none of the spark and intelligence as well as individualism that so intrigued her mentor in the first book. Readers learn much of the condition of women, especially as the few remaining men return home from the war, and become aware of the class system and unequal social conditions of early 20th-century England, while engaged in a thoroughly entertaining romp through the meaner streets of London. A delight, and a worthy sequel.-Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
George Needham
Mary Russell, introduced as the worthy successor to Dr. Watson in "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" , makes a triumphant return here. Russell has reached her majority, completed her studies at Oxford, come into her inheritance, and uncovered a passel of trouble in Margery Childe, a charismatic mystic with political aspirations in 1921 London. Childe has organized a temple to proselytize her mixture of feminism and what would be called, in a later decade, "liberation theology." Unfortunately, wealthy members of her inner circle keep dying, shortly after rewriting their wills in her favor. Russell launches the investigation of the temple while her employer, Sherlock Holmes and his brother, Mycroft, pursue drug smugglers in France. King expertly captures the details of the period, although some of her characters, attitudes, and actions seem anachronistic. Most of the well-loved figures from the Doyle canon make appearances, including Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson, and even Inspector Lastrade's son. Though purists will be offended by Holmes' behavior at the tale's conclusion, less-finicky fans will find the book thoroughly enjoyable.
From the Publisher
"The great marvel of King's series is that she's managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes's character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind and as well as his heart. . . . Superb."—The Washington Post Book World

"As audacious as it is entertaining and moving . . . What gives Laurie R. King's books such a rich and original texture is the character of Mary—totally believable in her own right, a tall and gangling orphan with a restless intellect and a great store of moral and physical courage."—Chicago Tribune

"Mary Russell makes a triumphant return. . . . Thoroughly enjoyable."—Booklist

"Extraordinary . . . A delight."—The Washington Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429936521
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/15/1995
Series:
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series , #2
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
22,957
File size:
389 KB

Read an Excerpt

A Monstrous Regiment of Women

A Mary Russell Novel


By Laurie R. King

Picador and St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1995 Laurie R. King
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3652-1


CHAPTER 1

SUNDAY, 26 DECEMBER–MONDAY, 27 DECEMBER 1920


Womankind is imprudent and soft or flexible. Imprudent because she cannot consider with wisdom and reason the things she hears and sees; and soft she is because she is easily bowed.

— JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (c. 347–407)


I SAT BACK in my chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action. The satisfaction was for the essay whose last endnote I had just corrected, the distillation of several months' hard work and my first effort as a mature scholar: It was a solid piece of work, ringing true and clear on the page. The relief I felt was not for the writing, but for the concomitant fact that, thanks to my preoccupation, I had survived the compulsory Christmas revels, a fête which had reached a fever pitch in this, the last year of my aunt's control of what she saw as the family purse. The anticipation was for the week of freedom before me, one entire week with neither commitments nor responsibilities, leading up to my twenty-first birthday and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. A small but persistent niggle of trepidation tried to make itself known, but I forestalled it by standing up and going to the chest of drawers for clothing.

My aunt was, strictly speaking, Jewish, but she had long ago abandoned her heritage and claimed with all the enthusiasm of a convert the outward forms of cultural Anglicanism. As a result, her idea of Christmas tended heavily toward the Dickensian and Saxe-Gothan. Her final year as my so-called guardian was coincidentally the first year since the Great War ended to see quantities of unrationed sugar, butter, and meat, which meant that the emotional excesses had been compounded by culinary ones. I had begged off most of the revelry, citing the demands of the paper, but with my typewriter fallen silent, I had no choice but crass and immediate flight. I did not have to think about my choice of goals — I should begin at the cottage of my friend and mentor, my tutor, sparring partner, and comrade-in-arms, Sherlock Holmes. Hence my anticipation. Hence also the trepidation.

In rebellion against the houseful of velvet and silk through which I had moved for what seemed like weeks, I pulled from the wardrobe the most moth-eaten of my long-dead father's suits and put it on over a deliciously soft and threadbare linen shirt and a heavy Guernsey pullover I had rescued from the mice in the attic. Warm, lined doeskin gloves, my plaits pinned up under an oversized tweed cap, thick scarf, and a pause for thought. Whatever I was going to do for the next three or four days, it would be at a distance from home. I went to the chest of drawers and took out an extra pair of wool stockings, and from a secret niche behind the wainscotting I retrieved a leather pouch, in which I had secreted all the odd notes and coins of unspent gifts and allowances over the last couple of years — a considerable number, I was pleased to see. The pouch went into an inner pocket along with a pencil stub, some folded sheets of paper, and a small book on Rabbi Akiva that I'd been saving for a treat. I took a last look at my refuge, locked the door behind me, and carried my rubber-soled boots to the back door to lace them on.

Although I half-hoped that one of my relatives might hail me, they were all either busy with the games in the parlour or unconscious in a bloated stupor, because the only persons I saw were the red-faced cook and her harassed helper, and they were too busy preparing yet another meal to do more than return my greetings distractedly. I wondered idly how much I was paying them to work on the day a servant traditionally expected to have free, but I shrugged off the thought, put on my boots and the dingy overcoat I kept at the back of the cupboard beneath the stairs, and escaped from the overheated, overcrowded, emotion-laden house into the clear, cold sea air of the Sussex Downs. My breath smoked around me and my feet crunched across patches not yet thawed by the watery sunlight, and by the time I reached Holmes' cottage five miles away, I felt clean and calm for the first time since leaving Oxford at the end of term.

He was not at home.

Mrs Hudson was there, though. I kissed her affectionately and admired the needlework she was doing in front of the kitchen fire, and teased her about her slack ways on her free days and she tartly informed me that she wore her apron only when she was on duty, and I commented that in that case she must surely wear it over her nightdress, because as far as I could see she was always on duty when Holmes was about, and why didn't she come and take over my house in seven days' time and I'd be sure to appreciate her, but she only laughed, knowing I didn't mean it, and put the kettle on the fire.

He had gone to Town, she said, dressed in a multitude of mismatched layers, two scarfs, and a frayed and filthy silk hat — and did I prefer scones or muffins?

"Are the muffins already made?"

"Oh, there are a few left from yesterday, but I'll make fresh."

"On your one day off during the year? You'll do nothing of the sort. I adore your muffins toasted — you know that — and they're better the second day, anyway."

She let herself be persuaded. I went up to Holmes' room and conducted a judicious search of his chest of drawers and cupboards while she assembled the necessaries. As I expected, he had taken the fingerless gloves he used for driving horses and the tool for prising stones from hoofs; in combination with the hat, it meant he was driving a horsecab. I went back down to the kitchen, humming.

I toasted muffins over the fire and gossiped happily with Mrs Hudson until it was time for me to leave, replete with muffins, butter, jam, anchovy toast, two slices of Christmas cake, and a waxed paper-wrapped parcel in my pocket, in order to catch the 4:43 to London.

I used occasionally to wonder why the otherwise canny folk of the nearby towns, and particularly the stationmasters who sold the tickets, did not remark at the regular appearance of odd characters on their platforms, one old and one young, of either sex, often together. Not until the previous summer had I realised that our disguises were treated as a communal scheme by our villagers, who made it a point of honour never to let slip their suspicions that the scruffy young male farmhand who slouched through the streets might be the same person who, dressed considerably more appropriately in tweed skirt and cloche hat, went off to Oxford during term time and returned to buy tea cakes and spades and the occasional half-pint of bitter from the merchants when she was in residence. I believe that had a reporter from the Evening Standard come to town and offered one hundred pounds for an inside story on the famous detective, the people would have looked at him with that phlegmatic country expression that hides so much and asked politely who he might be meaning.

I digress. When I reached London, the streets were still crowded. I took a taxi (a motor cab, so I hadn't to look too closely at the driver) to the agency Holmes often used as his supplier when he needed a horse and cab. The owner knew me — at least, he recognised the young man who stood in front of him — and said that, yes, that gentleman (not meaning, of course, a gentleman proper) had indeed shown up for work that day. In fact, he'd shown up twice.

"Twice? You mean he brought the cab back, then?" I was disappointed, and wondered if I ought merely to give up the chase.

"T'orse 'ad an 'ot knee, an' 'e walked 'er back. 'E was about ter take out anuvver un when 'e 'appened t'see an ol' 'anson just come in. Took a fancy, 'e did, can't fink why —'s bloody cold work an' the pay's piss-all, 'less you 'appen on t' odd pair what wants a taste of t' old days, for a lark. 'Appens, sometimes, come a summer Sunday, or after t' theatre Sattiday. Night like this 'e'd be bloody lucky t'get a ha'penny over fare."

With a straight face, I reflected privately on how his colourful language would have faded in the light of the posh young lady I occasionally was.

"So he took the hansom?"

"That 'e did. One of the few what can drive the thing, I'll give 'im that." His square face contemplated for a moment this incongruous juxtaposition of skill and madness in the man he knew as Basil Josephs, then he shook his head in wonderment. "'Ad ta give 'im a right bugger of an 'orse, though. Never been on a two-wheeler, 'e 'asn't, and plug-headed and leather-mouthed to boot. 'Ope old Josephs 'asn't 'ad any problems," he said with a magnificent lack of concern, and leant over to hawk and spit delicately into the noisome gutter.

"Well," I said, "there couldn't be too many hansoms around, I might spot him tonight. Can you tell me what the horse looks like?"

"Big bay, wide blaze, three stockin's with t' off hind dark, nasty eyes, but you won't see 'em —'e's got blinkers on," he rattled off, then added after a moment, "Cab's number two-ninety-two." I thanked him with a coin and went a- hunting through the vast, sprawling streets of the great cesspool for a single, worn hansom cab and its driver.

The hunt was not quite so hopeless as it might appear. Unless he were on a case (and Mrs Hudson had thought on the whole that he was not), his choice of clothing and cab suggested entertainment rather than employment, and his idea of entertainment tended more toward London's east end rather than Piccadilly or St John's Wood. Still, that left a fair acreage to choose from, and I spent several hours standing under lampposts, craning to see the feet of passing horses (all of them seemed to have blazes and stockings) and fending off friendly overtures from dangerously underdressed young and not-so-young women. Finally, just after midnight, one marvelously informative conversation with such a lady was interrupted by the approaching clop and grind of a trotting horsecab, and a moment later the piercing tones of a familiar voice echoing down the nearly deserted street obviated the need for any further equine examination.

"Annalisa, my dear young thing," came the voice that was not a shout but which could be heard a mile away on the Downs, "isn't that child you are trying to entice a bit young, even for you? Look at him — he doesn't even have a beard yet."

The lady beside me whirled around to the source of this interruption. I excused myself politely and stepped out into the street to intercept the cab. He had a fare — or rather, two — but he slowed, gathered the reins into his right hand, and reached the other long arm down to me. My disappointed paramour shouted genial insults at Holmes that would have blistered the remaining paint from the woodwork, had they not been deflected by his equally jovial remarks in kind.

The alarming dip of the cab caused the horse to snort and veer sharply, and a startled, moustachioed face appeared behind the cracked glass of the side window, scowling at me. Holmes redirected his tongue's wrath from the prostitute to the horse and, in the best tradition of London cabbies, cursed the animal soundly, imaginatively, and without a single manifest obscenity. He also more usefully snapped the horse's head back with one clean jerk on the reins, returning its attention to the job at hand, while continuing to pull me up and shooting a parting volley of affectionate and remarkably familiar remarks at the fading Annalisa. Holmes did so like to immerse himself fully in his rôles, I reflected as I wedged myself into the one-person seat already occupied by the man and his garments.

"Good evening, Holmes," I greeted him politely.

"Good morning, Russell," he corrected me, and shook the horse back into a trot.

"Are you on a job, Holmes?" I had known as soon as his arm reached down for me that if case it were, it did not involve the current passengers, or he should merely have waved me off.

"My dear Russell, those Americanisms of yours," he tut-tutted. "How they do grate on the ear. 'On a job.' No, I am not occupied with a case, Russell, merely working at the maintenance of old skills."

"And are you having fun?"

"'Having fun'?" He pronounced the words with fastidious distaste and looked at me askance.

"Very well: Are you enjoying yourself?"

He raised one eyebrow at my clothes before turning back to the reins.

"I might ask the same of you, Russell."

"Yes," I replied. "As a matter of fact, I am enjoying myself, Holmes, very much, thank you." And I sat back as best I could to do so.

Traffic even in the middle of London tends to die down considerably by the close of what Christians mistakenly call the Sabbath, and the streets were about as quiet now as they ever were. It was very pleasant being jolted about in a swaying seat eight feet above the insalubrious cobblestones, next to my one true friend, through the ill-lit streets that echoed the horse's hoofs and the grind of the wheels, on a night cold enough to kill the smells and keep the fog at bay, but not cold enough to damage exposed flesh and fingertips. I glanced down at my companion's begrimed fingers where they were poised, testing the heavy leather for signs of misbehaviour from the still-fractious beast with the same sensitivity they exhibited in all their activities, from delicate chemical experiments to the tactile exploration of a clue. I was struck by a thought.

"Holmes, do you find that the cold on a clear night exacerbates your rheumatism as much as the cold of a foggy night?"

He fixed me with a dubious eye, then turned back to the job, lips no doubt pursed beneath the scarfs. It was, I realised belatedly, an unconventional opening for a conversation, but surely Holmes, of all people, could not object to the eccentric.

"Russell," he said finally, "it is very good of you to have come up from Sussex and stood on cold street corners for half the night striking up inappropriate friendships and flirting with pneumonia in order to enquire after my health, but perhaps having found me, you might proceed with your intended purpose."

"I had no purpose," I protested, stung. "I finished my paper more quickly than I'd thought, felt like spending the rest of the day with you rather than listening to my relations shrieking and moaning downstairs, and, when I found you missing, decided on a whim to follow you here and see if I might track you down. It was merely a whim," I repeated firmly. Perhaps too firmly. I hastened to change the subject. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Driving a cab," he said in a voice that told me that he was neither distracted nor deceived. "Go on, Russell, you may as well ask your question; you've spent seven hours in getting here. Or perhaps I ought to say, six years?"

"What on earth are you talking about?" I was very cross at the threat of having my nice evening spoilt by his sardonic, all-knowing air, though God knows, I should have been used to it by then. "I am having a holiday from the holidays. I am relaxing, following the enforced merriment of the last week. An amusing diversion, Holmes, nothing else. At least it was, until your suspicious mind let fly with its sneering intimations of omniscience. Really, Holmes, you can be very irritating at times."

He seemed not in the least put out by my ruffled feathers, and he arched his eyebrow and glanced sideways at me to let me know it. I put up my chin and looked in the other direction.

"So you did not 'track me down,' as you put it, for any express purpose, other than as an exercise in tracking?"

"And for the pleasurable exercise of freedom, yes."

"You are lying, Russell."

"Holmes, this is intolerable. If you wish to be rid of me, all you need do is slow down and let me jump off. You needn't be offensive to me. I'll go."

"Russell, Russell," he chided, and shook his head.

"Damn it, Holmes, what can you imagine was so urgent that I should come all the way here in order to confront you with it immediately? Which, you may have noticed, I have not done?"

"A question you finally nerved yourself up to ask, and the momentum carried you along," he answered coolly.

"And what question might that be?" I did leave myself right open for it, but once launched in a path, it is difficult to change direction.

"I expect you came to ask me to marry you."

I nearly fell off the back of the cab.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. Copyright © 1995 Laurie R. King. Excerpted by permission of Picador and St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Laurie R. King is the Edgar Award–winning author of the Kate Martinelli novels, the acclaimed Mary Russell mysteries, and several stand-alone novels, including the highly praised A Darker Place. She lives in northern California.
Laurie R. King is the Edgar Award–winning author of the Kate Martinelli novels and the acclaimed Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes mysteries, as well as a few stand-alone novels. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first in her Mary Russell series, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of the Century’s Best 100 Mysteries by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. A Monstrous Regiment of Women won the Nero Wolfe Award. She has degrees in theology, and besides writing she has also managed a coffee store and raised children, vegetables, and the occasional building. She lives in northern California.

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A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell Series #2) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are a Sherlock Holmes purist, I'd stay clear of this one. While it is well-written enough, its focus was clearly not on the science of deduction or the mystery itself (Which wasn't all that difficult for the reader to solve). Didn't Holmes often complain to Watson about deviation away from the science of the crime for the sake of sensationlism? Anyway, this yellow back novel is entertaining for the less strict fans who may not notice the out of character qualities in Holmes, and delightful for fans who've always had a crush on him. But for the most part, purists (Like myself) should just read Beekeeper's Apprentice and be done with it!
Cher58 More than 1 year ago
This second in the Mary Russell series gives the reader even more insight into the WWI era of Britain, in this case in particular the attitudes pertaining to and about women of the time. I found the mystery wrapped around the female "preacher" to be a great contrast to the murders that were happening around her. Laurie King's sense of timing enhances the relationship between the characters of Russell and Holmes. Anticipating the next repartee between these two is half the fun. I was reluctant at first to place Sherlock Holmes anywhere else but between the pages of Conan Doyle. Since reading three other books in the series I have found the partnership between Holmes and Russell to be an enhancement of Conan Doyles' masterpieces.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved The Beekeepers Apprentice and when I finished it I immediately bought this book. I did not like this book. It was tedious, however I enjoyed learning more about Mary. I will buy the next book in the series and hope for better.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
This is a 'middle' book. What I mean by that is that it seems to be mostly about setting up further character and plot developments rather than completely being a story unto itself. We get to learn much more about Mary Russell, her coming of majority, her inheritance, and learning to deal with aspects of both. Interwoven in this is a mystery, Russell is met by an old Oxford chum on London's streets and asked for help with an ill fiance. She follows along to a worship service at 'the Temple' which preaches in conflict to standard mores of the times. Women are more than subservient and obedient to their male counterparts, intelligent and vital and worth just as much on their own. Into this arena falls the mystery. I won't give any more away because it IS worth the read to find out what goes on. Sherlock Holmes is a bit of a supporting character, sometimes only appearing in Russell's mental ponderings. Clearly it is she who is the 'star' of the tale. And the final surprise? After almost two books tip toeing around about the it is finally solved in an seemingly offhanded manner. "oh yes, and by the way...". Maybe I exaggerate a little, but that's how it felt. All that aside I DID enjoy the book and look forward to reading the next in the series "Letter of Mary". I think this was just a 'middle book' after all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the part where Russell was teasing Mrs. Hudson about wearing her apron to bed.
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It did have an intriging plot most of the time. It drifted some of the times.
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I found it fast moving and enough of a mystery that I kept reading it. I wanted more. There was history. I learned about Women's rights in England. Their fight for independence and rights was awesome. Young women will enjoy as well as all ages. It would make a great book club book. The discussions would be interesting and varied.
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