|By Laurie R. King
(Bantam Books, 1998)
Reviewed by Glenda Bixler
|othic mysteries have always been among my favorites, so the title, The Moor, immediately drew my attention. Then when I saw Sherlock Holmes had been teamed with a female partner, Mary Russell, I was hooked. This is a delightful book!
Interestingly, the author provides an editors note in which it is claimed that the manuscripts have been found and were originally written by Ms. Russell. This is an added note that lends a curious, but nonetheless minor, twist, because as with any mystery involving Holmes, you soon get so tied up into the story that it matters little who is the author.
Later in Sherlock Holmess life, we find that he has taken not only a new partner . . . but she has become his wife! Mary Russell, who prefers to go by that name, is an intellectual, an Oxford student of theology, and, once in a while, partner to the famous sleuth. What is interesting is that the story is oftentimes written from the point of view of Ms. Russell. This change is almost transparent, yet lends a new and highly entertaining perspective to the traditional cases where Holmes is the leader in finding clues and solving the case. For King has humanized Sherlock in a gentle, loving way and allows him to call upon his wife for help in a way that shows both his love and respect. A truly delightful team!
The Moor takes us to Dartmoor, where Holmes once solved the case of the hound of the Baskervilles, at the request of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. Nearing his 90th year, in the early 1920s, the Reverend has summoned his godson, Sherlock, to find out what is happening on the moors. There have been strange sightings of a coach and dog, claimed to be a woman who married a local lord who soon died. She was never officially accused and tried, but for her sins she is said to be condemned to riding in a coach made of the bones of her dead husbands, driven by a headless horseman and led by a black hound with a single eye in the centre of his forehead. More importantly, a local man has been killed and found on the moors.
The book opens with Mary Russell receiving a telegram to come immediately to Devonshire . . . and to bring her compass. Mary is not thrilled to be summoned and returns to her reading only to receive another telegram two hours later to bring maps, close her books . . . and leave now. This tug and pull of the two individuals in their own professional lives erupts throughout the book to show each persons independence, yet reliance on each other. This presents an intriguing diversion from reviewing the clues, until both are so caught up in solving the mystery that, upon meeting after each doing their own research, they both proclaim the resolution of the case!
The exploration of the moors, its occupants, its hidden dangers are reminiscent of other stories set in Dartmoor, but still beckon and capture the reader to roam through the site, inspecting each stone, each change in the weather, and what it may mean and how it can help solve the mystery. The characters brought forth are charming and serve to introduce you to the community of those who become close by necessity as they must depend upon each other in this strange, wild land. Ms. Russells love of reading takes her into the hundreds of books written by Reverend Baring-Gould, where she finds pieces of evidence that slowly pull together to help solve the case.
In the end, the activity behind the mystery is somewhat mundane—the salting of gold by an unscrupulous pair, one of whom is the illegitimate son of a Baskerville. However, watching the Holmes couple go their respective ways, to gain and add to the clues that leads to the final discovery, provides a new dimension for Sherlock Holmess fans. If youre one . . . look for the entire series with Mary Russell. Youll be glad to visit with Sherlock once again and meet this new partner and wife!