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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Author Guest Post: Laurie R. King

Please welcome Laurie R. King, author of (among other things) the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books that I've been raving about all month.

A bit about Laurie ...
Laurie R. King is the Edgar award winning, New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell series of historical mysteries, the modern police series of Kate Martinelli, and a number of standalones. Her web site ( is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of The Beekeeper's Apprentice as well as the new The Language of Bees with its project "Fifteen Weeks of Bees."
Laurie was kind enough to give me an interview earlier this month and now she's back with a guest post that I find fascinating ... enjoy!


Any relationship needs a dash of spice from time to time, to keep things lively.

Take my characters. I’ve been living with these people for twenty-two years, nine books, a couple of short stories—well over a million words. I was at their 1915 meeting on the Sussex Downs, and I watched over their 1924 return to Sussex. I’ve traveled beside them while they trekked with Bedouin through the deserts of Palestine (modern day Israel) and hunted Kipling’s Kim in the foothills of the Himalayas. I even straddled three chronologies for a trip to San Francisco, during, after and further after the 1906 quake and fire. (In, respectively, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; The Language of Bees [publication date April 28]; O Jerusalem; The Game; and Locked Rooms.

More than time or location, however, I’ve followed along on their growth. In 1915, Mary Russell was a brash and defensive 15 year old orphan with neither family nor home; now she is a self-assured adult who knows where she is going in life, and occasionally even sees how to get there. And Sherlock Holmes: When Arthur Conan Doyle abandoned him on the brink of the Great War (in “His Last Bow,” set in August 1914), Holmes was fading, just as the Empire whose values he fought to maintain was fading around him.

Conan Doyle never did grapple with what Holmes might have become in the utterly transformed England that followed the war. In all the Holmes stories published after 1918, Sir Arthur wrote exclusively of Holmes before the guns of August started up.

Not so the Holmes who meets Mary Russell. Under the influence of this young woman, Holmes could grow in ways that Conan Doyle would neither have conceived nor, I imagine, have tolerated.

I did not set out to liberate Sherlock Holmes from his creator. I set out to write about a young, female, feminist, modern version of Holmes, one who is the more interesting for coming into contact with the original.

However, I can’t imagine the purpose of a series in which the characters do not change. If one of the earmarks of a good novel is the logical character development between the beginning and the end, then all the more necessary is that development over the wider arc of a series. Yes, there are fine and fun series in which the protagonist in number twenty is identical to the person in number one, in which the conflict, injury, loss, and triumph of nineteen consecutive volumes fades away as soon as the next opens, but I personally cannot write that kind of series. Boredom with the task would drive me to divorce, if not outright murder.

Hence the need for spice.

When I start a new book in a series, whether it’s a Russell or a Martinelli (and possibly, a new series out of the Touchstone characters), what I want to know from the beginning is what new thing I’m going to find out about them, how this book will explore something different from all the others. It doesn’t have to be profound or all-encompassing, just something that interests me, from Russell’s religious beliefs (A Monstrous Regiment of Women) to the redefinition of the British aristocracy in the twentieth century (Justice Hall.)

The last Russell/Holmes novel found the duo in San Francisco, where Russell was forced to confront a past she had hidden from herself, and where our apparently infallible narrator was suddenly revealed (to herself as well as the reader) to be entirely fallible, even deluded, when it came to what she thought she knew about herself. She came away from Locked Rooms satisfyingly (to the writer, at any rate, if not to poor Russell) changed.

And now in the current book, Russell and Holmes are returning home to Sussex in the summer of 1924, following eight months on the road. And naturally, they don’t even manage to walk through their door before another transformative case presents itself.

This time, the spice I chose came from a pair of passing references made back in the second Russell novel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. First, Russell meets a shell-shocked young officer and mentions that “something in his hands reminded me of Holmes, and of Holmes’ lovely, lost son.”

Later in the book, when she is trying to bully Holmes into helping this young officer (and in the process, leaving her alone) she demands (and then reflects):
“And if he were your son? Would you not want someone to try?” It was a dirty blow, low and unscrupulous and quite unforgivably wicked. Because, you see, he did have a son once, and someone had tried.

Perhaps not everyone would regard the appearance of a long-lost illegitimate son as being spice for a relationship, but without a doubt, it is spice for a novel.

And I’m sorry, but having whetted your appetite to find how this particular situation turns out, you’ll have to wait until The Language of Bees is published at the end of April to know.

Perhaps, indeed, hunger is the best spice.


Thank you, Laurie, for dropping by yet again. I hope all my readers enjoyed hearing from you as much as I did.

A big thank you to all of you who are here for the first time as well (following the link on Laurie's blog). Feel free to poke around a bit and know you are welcome back any time.

For more info about Laurie - and to check out her US book tour dates - please visit her website: I'm exciting to say that she'll be coming to Baltimore in May ... and you can bet that I'll be there to meet her!

*** Other posts so far in my Month of Joyful Reading ***


Amanda said...

From your reviews and interview I know I have to read her books. I LOVE Sherlock Holmes and have read all of those. So her books are a must read for me. Thanks for introducing me to them!

Amy said...

I'm going to have to give this series a shot, just like Amanda! Not that I really need more books on my TBR list, but...

I both love and hate the evolution of a character across a series - I get bored if they stay exactly the same, but sometimes they change into people that I no longer like or relate to - just like real life, eh?

Ms Ulat Buku said...

Great post on Laurie. I've never read any of her books before and am hoping to pick one up soon. Anyway, am presenting you with the Lovely Award. Don't know if you've received this yet but congrats! Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

As a longtime reader of Laurie's novels, and an avid fan of the Mary Russell series, I am envious of all of you who will have the pleasure of meeting Mary Russell for the first time.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes not only change over the course of the novels, they become richer, more interesting characters who have fans salivating for the next book. "The Language of Bees" can't come soon enough for all of us.

Laurie King said...

Thanks, all, for inviting me, and I hope you enjoy the books.


Bachi said...

What a in depth tribute to one of my favorite authors. Thanks 30+, I'm impressed!

Nancy said...

RuthI recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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