Laurie R. King Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Laurie R. King is probably best known as the writer who dared disturb Sherlock Holmes’s century or so of bachelorhood by reinventing him as the mentor, partner, and eventually husband of Mary Russell, a scholar and sleuth whose wit matches that of the fabled detective. Although some Sherlockian purists objected to any tampering with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, King’s Mary Russell series has won her many fans and critical accolades, including a Nero Wolfe Award. Keeping Holmes’s astute eye and amazing reasoning ability, King takes him out of the world of gaslights and hansom cabs and into the early years of the twentieth century, from World War I through the 1920’s. By pairing Holmes with a modern, independent young woman, King breathed new life into the legendary figure and created a character with whom female mystery readers can identify.

However, King is more than a reinventor of Sherlock Holmes. She is also the author of the Kate Martinelli series, featuring a thoroughly modern, lesbian female police detective in San Francisco. Amazingly, these two series began at approximately the same time and have continued to coexist, often with a title from each series published in the same year. While different in style and setting, the Russell and Martinelli series do share certain elements: a strong female protagonist and plots that concern themselves with aspects of women’s lives and women’s rights. Mary Russell, coming of age during and...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Burgess, Michael, and Jill H. Vassilakos. Murder in Retrospect : A Selective Guide to Historical Mystery Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2005. This genre study includes a brief overview of the Mary Russell series, with plot summaries of all the series novels through The Game (2004), as well as King’s short story, “Mrs. Hudson’s Case,” which appeared in the anthology Crime Through Time (1997). The authors analyze King’s contributions to the historical mystery genre, citing the quality of King’s writing and her ability to blend timeless themes with historical detail.

King, Laurie R. “Historical Mysteries: The Past Is a Foreign Country.” In Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Sue Grafton. Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 2002. This chapter in a manual for mystery writers contains advice from King and reflections on her own research and writing process in the Mary Russell series.

King, Laurie R. Laurie R. King: Mystery Writer/Author. Author’s Web site includes a biography and ongoing news about King, as well as descriptions of her works, excerpts from reviews, background on the Russell and Martinelli series, and links for teachers. Her site includes a long autobiography.

Nichols, Victoria, and Susan Thompson. Silk Stalkings: More Women Write of Murder. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998. The chapter “After the Fall: Historical Mysteries” discusses the Mary Russell series through A Monstrous Regiment of Women. The authors describe Russell as the perfect counterpoint to Sherlock Holmes: a young woman who can match his intellect but also helps to humanize his character.

Winks, Robin W., and Maureen Corrigan, eds. Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998. King is discussed in two sections, “Gay and Lesbian Mystery Fiction,” which analyzes the Kate Martinelli series in the context of other mystery novels with lesbian protagonists, and “The Historical Mystery,” which places King’s Mary Russell novels in the context of the historical pastiche mystery; there is also a comparison of King’s two series. The authors praise King’s historically accurate depiction of feminist Mary Russell not only as an outsider in early twentieth century British society but also as a woman of her times.