Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Watson, Jerusalem?

You just never know:

O Jerusalem is the fifth book in the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King.

Set during the voyage of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes to the Holy Land, the action of this novel takes place chronologically during the action of The Beekeeper's Apprentice. In Palestine Mary and Sherlock meet up with Mahmoud and Ali Hazr, two apparently Bedouin guides, to counter a plot against the British in Jerusalem under General Edmund Allenby to seek out spies in post-WWI Palestine

Mary Russell
is a fictional character in a book series by Laurie R. King, focusing on the adventures of Russell and her partner and, later, husband, an aging Sherlock Holmes. Most of the novels are told in first-person retrospective from Mary Russell's point of view.

The daughter of a British Jewish mother and an American millionaire father, Russell spent time in Boston and San Francisco as well as England while growing up. Her mother raised her in the Jewish tradition and she continues to consider herself a Jew as an adult. An ardent feminist and a respected scholar in her chosen field of theology, Russell has a variety of unlikely talents that have come in handy during cases. She has extremely accurate aim with firearms, thrown knives, and even rocks. She can also play the tin whistle, juggle and do sleight-of-hand, and pick locks. Most usefully, she speaks a large number of languages, including Ancient Greek and Latin (learned for her theology degree), Hebrew, French, German, Arabic, and Hindi.


It's 1918. Nineteen-year-old Mary and her fiftysomething mentor are forced to flee England to escape a deadly adversary. Sherlock's well-connected brother Mycroft sends them to Palestine to do some international sleuthing. Here, a series of murders threatens the fragile peace.

Laurie King connects us, through details of language, custom, history, and sensual impressions, to this very alien environment. Russell, Holmes, and two marvelously imagined Arab guides named Mahmoud and Ali trek through the desert and visit ancient monasteries clinging like anthills to cliffs. They also find time to take tea with the British military legend Allenby in Haifa and skulk through or under the streets of Jerusalem...

...Disguised as itinerant Muslims and paired with two Arab spies, Russell and Holmes travel through the Holy Land trying to figure out exactly why Mycroft has sent them. A pair of seemingly unrelated murders sets them on the track of a brilliant and power-hungry killer. Only Holmes and Russell (along with some unexpected allies) can stop their adversary from destroying Jerusalem if they can get to him in time. King's clear prose and her vivid depiction of a British-occupied Palestine torn between opposing cultures are the book's main strengths.

This too:

At the close of the year 1918, forced to flee England's green and pleasant land, Russell and Holmes enter British-occupied Palestine under the auspices of Holmes' enigmatic brother, Mycroft.

"Gentlemen, we are at your service." Thus Holmes greets the two travel-grimed Arab figures who receive them in the orange groves fringing the Holy Land. Whatever role could the volatile Ali and the taciturn Mahmoud play in Mycroft's design for this land the British so recently wrested from the Turks? After passing a series of tests, Holmes and Russell learn their guides are engaged in a mission for His Majesty's Government, and disguise themselves as Bedouins--Russell as the beardless youth "Amir"--to join them in a stealthy reconnaissance through the dusty countryside.

A recent rash of murders seems unrelated to the growing tensions between Jew, Moslem, and Christian, yet Holmes is adamant that he must reconstruct the most recent one in the desert gully where it occurred. His singular findings will lead him and Russell through labyrinthine bazaars, verminous inns, cliff-hung monasteries--and into mortal danger. When her mentor's inquiries jeopardize his life, Russell fearlessly wields a pistol and even assays the arts of seduction to save him. Bruised and bloodied, the pair ascend to the jewellike city of Jerusalem, where they will at last meet their adversary, whose lust for savagery and power could reduce the city's most ancient and sacred place to rubble and ignite this tinderbox of a land....

And this:

King does an absolutely superb job of depicting post World War I Palestine--the aftermath of the brilliant military campaign led by Sir Edmund Allenby that drove the Turks from their 400 year occupation of Palestine and Syria. Holmes, Russell, Ali, and Mahmoud travel nearly the entire length and breadth of Palestine in search of a mysterious killer. As they do so, they visit early Jewish settlements, Arab villages, Christian monasteries, and the Dead Sea, among other places. King is superb in painting the local color of each, especially Jerusalem, where she is so evocative that you feel as if you are right there, amid the dust, the smells, the Arabs, Jews, Christians, British, the holiest places of three religions.

Darn. "Settlements".

Laurie King:

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