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The Pirate King by Laurie R. King

Laurie King has delivered eleven Mary Russell mysteries and “The Pirate King” is the first one I’ve read that has disappointed me.

The thing that I find so jarring about “The Pirate King” is that it is set in the 1920s.  Our heroine, Mary Russell, and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are so thoroughly Victorian.  There is a character-to-era mismatch.  I also find that the plot plods along with little action until the very end.  It was a chore to slog on through it.

In this installment of Mary Russell’s story she is recruited to find out whether a silent film director, Randolph Fflytte, is responsible for a rash of smuggling drugs and other illegal contraband into the U.K. and the death of a company employee.  Russell takes a job as the assistant to the film company’s producer, Geoffrey Hale, and promptly gets roped into accompanying the film crew,  a bevy of young starlets and other actors to Portugal and then on to Morocco to film a parody of “The Pirates of Penzance.”  Needless to say, Russell’s Victorian values clash with those of the thoroughly modern Roaring Twenties era film crew.

It becomes apparent to Russell early on in the filming that Fflytte has hired a real pirate and a real pirate crew to be the title characters.  Fflytte also falls in love with an old pirate ship and spends some extra time in Portugal outfitting the ship to be able to take the whole crew to Morocco.  As Mary Russell predicts, the whole British cast and crew are held captive once they get to Morocco and the women are threatened with the possibility of being sold as harem wives deeper into Islamic territory while the men (including a disguised Sherlock Holmes) are threatened with being killed.  Supposedly the westerners can be saved by arranging a large ransom, but Mary doubts that any of them will get out without putting up a fight.  The escapes scene is quite entertaining and is the best part of the book.  Mary so impresses Fflytte that he signs her to a contract to become “The Pirate Queen” in a sequel to the current movie.  Again, readers who are used to Mary being this Victorian era sleuth will find the image of Mary as a pirate somewhat strange.

I’ll come back to this series when King decides to place Russell and Holmes back in their Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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