Mary Russell and other matters

When I published the first collection of Da Silva Tales, Second Sight, I mentioned in the introduction the “benevolent schizophrenia” of having a character barge in and take you over.

“Now I’m not the only writer to have experienced this. This is the poet Fernando Pessoa:
“I began to write… and I wrote thirtyodd poems straight off, in a kind of ecstasy whose nature I cannot define. It was the triumphal day of my life, and I shall never be able to have another like it. I started with a title… And what followed was the apparition of somebody in me, to whom I at once gave the name Alberto Caeiro. Forgive me the absurdity of the phrase: my master had appeared in me. This was the immediate sensation I had.”
Pessoa’s “apparition” went further than mine, this being one of the other personalities which he called heteronyms as whom he wrote poetry. But I recognized the sensation at once the instant I read that description.”

Pessoa appears in Laurie King’s latest Mary Russell novel, Pirate King. Now I am a big fan of these books, though Holmes purists may hate them with a passion. (I like the Washington Post review quoted on the cover: “The great marvel of King’s series is that she’s managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart.”) My favorite remains The Game, however, as I found Pirate King a little disappointing.

While it’s grand to meet Pessoa, I am sorry that King has painted my Lisbon as a cold, rainy and unwelcoming place. I can only conclude that Mary Russell was unlucky with the weather, because although it can be chilly when it rains the average November temperature is a far-from-Arctic 59°. And its plot is as preposterous as the topsy-turvy Gilbertian shenanigans it subverts, although King provides a disarmingly neat disclaimer in the Foreword.

My main reason, however, for not liking it as much as the rest of the series is— Not enough Holmes! As in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he delegates the larger part of the investigation to his partner; but since Russell is Holmes’s equal in intelligence and insight, we don’t even get the rather pleasing sensation we do with Watson, that the narrator might be missing something important.

Incidentally, Rick Kennett and I perpetrated a Holmes story, The Grantchester Grimoire, in the anthology Gaslight Grimoires, published by Edge (, in which he meets up with none other than Thomas Carnacki. And in our collection of Carnacki stories  No 472 Cheyne Walk (Ash-Tree Press), Captain da Silva makes a guest appearance in the story Arkright’s Tale.

“I took to him at once: he was an interesting fellow. What you might call an old sea-dog, a man in his forties with an eyepatch that gave him a very piratical look. He spoke perfect English, luckily — even to the extent of making a joke about my name being a good one for someone involved with ships. It turned out that he was also the owner of the vessel, which he had apparently picked up for a song in Venice when the previous owner disappeared leaving a mass of debts. But there was, as I was to discover, more to Captain da Silva than met the eye.”


One thought on “Mary Russell and other matters

  1. I had enjoyed both of these tales enormously. The Granchester Grimoire had quite a few chills up in its sleeve, while Arkright’s Tale had released the adventures from the rather stifling set of saama rituals and other heavy stuff. I sincerely hope to read a lot more of such stuff in near future.

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