Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Pirate King

Summary: In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.
Pirate King is a Laurie King treasure chest—thrilling, intelligent, romantic, a swiftly unreeling masterpiece of suspense. -- Bantam

I have always been meaning to read some books from the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, but for some strange reason, I've never gotten to it. These mystery series about the wife of Sherlock Holmes has always appealed to me, and unfortunately, it has taken me this long to read one. Well, the saying "better late than never" is definitely true in this case. I recently read PIRATE KING (the 13th book in the series, I think!) and I have a feeling that I'm going to be reading a lot more books in this series.

In PIRATE KING, Mary is asked to investigate a popular English movie studio where an assortment of criminal activities seem to occur every time a movie is being made. This time around, the studio is making a movie (about a movie) based on the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. (You have to read it to really get it!) So Mary sets off to work undercover as the assistant to the director's assistant, and she finds that her job is interesting to say the least. She ends up traveling to such exotic locales as Portugal and Morocco while battling a serious case of sea sickness. In addition, she finds herself in a pretty sticky situation and has to come to the rescue of some damsels in distress. Of course, her husband and partner Sherlock Holmes makes a few appearances too!

It's no wonder that Ms. King is a best-selling author as well as an Edgar award winner. First of all, the basic idea behind these books is terrific. This series features Mary Russell and her partner and husband Sherlock Holmes as crime solvers. Since these novels take place during Holmes' "life," they manage to effectively capture the essence of that time period as well. So in addition to being mystery stories, they are also part historical fiction. I think Ms. King did a wonderful job in PIRATE KING of not only getting Holmes' character right, but also showing the reader an inside look into movie-making, silent films, and even pirates.

Of course, most readers are at least somewhat familiar with Holmes and will appreciate the references to him, but Mary is a fantastic character in her own right. The PIRATE KING was told in Mary's voice and I absolutely loved her. Naturally, she's intelligent (would Sherlock marry someone who wasn't his intellectual equal?), but she's also terribly insightful and witty.  In fact, I found myself laughing out loud a number of times at Mary's comments and how she handled this zany cast of characters. And, I loved how she managed her famous (and know-it-all) husband.

As far as mysteries go, I'm not sure that I would go so far to say that I was blown away by this one. Was I kept guessing until the very end? Yes. Was I a bit surprised with the final twists? Yes. Was there some suspense that kept me on the edge of my seat? Yes. Everything should have worked for me. However, I think I just wasn't that interested in all of the pirate stuff. While there is no doubt that pirates are quite popular and timely, I'm not a big fan of high seas adventures. I have a feeling that I would enjoy Mary much more in a different setting.

And that brings me to my next point... I must find more of these books to read. I adored both the concept of this series as well as the characters, and I want to learn more about Mary -- and especially her relationship with Holmes. They are a great team and I deeply enjoyed their banter and how Mary keeps him in line. Fortunately, I already have the first book in this series and I can't wait to dig in! Knowing that I will never catch up on all of the prior books in this series, which other ones should I read?

If you are a fan of smart mysteries with memorable characters, then I can't think of a better series to try than the Mary Russell one. Ms. King is one fantastic writer!

Thanks to the author and her publicist for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I've seen Pirate King around but had no idea it's a Mary Russell book. I have one of her older books and will probably read that first since I'm not big on high seas adventures either.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really like mysteries that focus more on character development than the crime, so I think I would like this one a lot!

iwriteinbooks said...

Oh what a neat idea behind this! I have just recenlty really gotten into mysteries and I'm learning that it really is such a wide genre. Very cool.

blog said...

I'm a huge fan of Laurie R. King, and her Mary Russell books in general.

The light tone of Pirate King isn't typical of the series, and is a particular contrast to the previous two books-- it did make a nice change of pace!

I'd strongly suggest picking up the first book of the series (The Beekeeper's Apprentice) next, then going on to the next two. These three lay the groundwork for the character of Mary Russell and her relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

Enjoy the books-- I'm glad you liked this one!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I must live on another planet because I have never heard of this series. Kinda cool that they use Mary Russell as the protagonist. I get a little scared though with series because I'm afraid I will be compelled to stop everything and read them all. Like Jo Nesbo.

Jan Winning said...

Oh...Laurie has been my favorite author since I first read "A Grave Talent" and then read through the rest of her Kate Martinelli series (a female detective in San Francisco).

Then when I ran out of them I read "Beekeeper's Apprentice" and was complete hooked...I have read the entire MR series over and over...

I can recommend "Folly" too.

btw....I see you are an avid reader...I have just discovered Ann Patchett.....Her "State of Wonder" is on the NYTimes Best Seller list, but I so recommend"Magician's Assistant" and "Patron Saint of Liars"

Glad I found you

Bailey (The Window Seat Reader) said...

I'm a fan of this series! I've only read 2 of them since I only discovered it within the last year, but I really look forward to reading this particular one. Enjoyed reading your review!

Kailana said...

I had no idea this series was up to so many books! I still have only read book 1...