This is the fifth novel in the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell series, even though the narrative takes place within the time frame of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first novel in the series.
I continue to enjoy this series very much. In this novel, as always, King creates a wonderful sense of time and place. Here, the time is 1919 and the place is Palestine, newly under British mandate after the defeat of its long-time Ottoman Turk rulers. King’s description of the locations in the novel is evocative and the atmosphere and events of the period are marvelously recreated. The reader is left in no doubt that King has undertaken meticulous research to get those elements right. That she does so without indulging in tedious information dumps is to her great credit.
One negative is that I picked the big baddy pretty soon after the revelation that there was in fact a big baddy still at large. No process of deduction was involved in my identification of the culprit; it was just a lucky guess. However, at the end of the novel, while gratified to have my guess confirmed as correct, I was rather at a loss to understand that character’s motive for villainy. If the motive was made clear, that particular bit of exposition passed me by. Another problem I have with the novel is the constant repetition of some details; for example, I understood fairly quickly that Russell and Holmes – not being in a position to engage in much washing of clothes and washing of bodies – were getting pretty grubby. I didn’t need to read quite so many references to the issue.
Russell, Holmes and the two other central characters in this novel, Ali and Mahmoud, engage in much improbable derring-do in the course of the narrative. Between them they survive attacks which would leave the rest of us hospitalised for weeks and maimed for life. They are also able to perform quite amazing feats of physical endurance on no sleep, a bit of coffee and a handful of pistachios (and in the case of the boys, considerable quantities of tobacco). In addition, Russell - who admittedly is quite the linguist - apparently becomes fluent in Arabic in what seems like a matter of days. While I accept that immersion is the way to learn a new language, I believe that slightly longer immersion than Russell appears to have had would be necessary before she could get to the stage of thinking in Arabic.
However, these are relatively minor quibbles. In my reviews of crime fiction novels I often seem to write that readers who can’t cope with implausibility should stay away from the genre. That certainly holds true for this novel in particular and the series in general. Notwithstanding the fact that the narrative is far-fetched, this was an entertaining read and I look forward to the next installment in the adventures of Russell and Holmes.