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Literature: Mary Russell
Best Fanfiction Ever

"I see before me one Mary Russell, named after her paternal grandmother... She is, let us see... fifteen years of age, and despite her youth and the fact that she is not at school she intends to pass the University entrance examinations... She is obviously left-handed, one of her parents was Jewish — her mother, I think? Yes, definitely the mother — and she reads and writes Hebrew. She is at present four inches shorter than her American father — that was his suit?"

Mary Russell is the protagonist of a series of detective novels by Laurie R. King based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. After her parents and brother are killed in a car crash, 15-year-old Mary returns to the family home on the Sussex Downs. There she meets Sherlock Holmes, who retired twelve years ago in 1903 and has become a beekeeper. He is surprised to find that she shares his talent for deduction, and she becomes both his friend and his apprentice. Later novels upgraded her to wife.

So far there are twelve novels in the series with a thirteenth on the way, and they are all set between 1915 and 1924. In order of publication, they are:
  • The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Set between 1915 and 1918, covers Holmes and Russell's first meeting and the three years she spent as his apprentice. Then a mysterious genius starts trying to kill them...
  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Mary celebrates her 21st birthday (complete with independence from an unpleasant aunt and a large inheritance) by going out on the town. She runs into an old friend who introduces her to the charismatic Margery Childe. Margery runs the New Temple of God, a progressive, intellectual group that fascinates Mary. But somehow, rich young women keep dying and leaving Margery money...
  • A Letter of Mary. An archaeologist whom Holmes and Russell met in Jerusalem appears in England with an ancient letter — which, when translated, is addressed "From Mariam, an apostle of Jesus the Anointed one, to my sister in the town of Madgala." Since nobody else would believe the letter is real, she's brought it to them — just in case. A few days later, she turns up murdered...
  • The Moor. Holmes and Russell return to the site of one of his most famous cases... Baskerville Manor.
  • O Jerusalem. This book takes place out of chronological order — it's a flashback to a point near the end of the first book when Holmes and Russell found it necessary to disappear for a while. Holmes's brother Mycroft suggests that, if they're leaving England anyway, they may as well make themselves useful, and sends them to Jerusalem to... actually, half the mystery in this one is what Mycroft and his Palestinian allies want.
  • Justice Hall. This book takes place after The Moor, but reads more like a sequel to O Jerusalem — which is part of why O Jerusalem was published out of order. While in Palestine, two of Holmes and Russell's closest allies were Ali and Mahmoud, a pair of spies who pretend — very well, according to Holmes — to be Arabs but are actually British aristocrats. Now, several years later, they're back in England, and unless they can find another heir for the title Justice Hall, they can never go back to Palestine.
  • The Game. Mycroft Holmes summons his brother and sister-in-law to his rooms late one evening, and informs them that they're going to India to rescue a kidnapped spy. This doesn't strike Mary as particularly unusual until she reads the name on the spy's records — Kimball O'Hara, hero of Rudyard Kipling's book Kim. (She does admit that she's in no position to say "You mean he's REAL?" being married to a man most people consider a figment of an out-of-work doctor's imagination.)
  • Locked Rooms. Holmes and Russell are apparently taking the long way home from India (Holmes mentions a three-week stay in Japan, which might be hinting at another flashback book later), and Russell decides to stop in San Francisco, her hometown, to settle the details of her inheritance. Between the odd wording of her father's will, the people who keep trying to kill her and the three family friends who were killed within a few months of the "accident", she soon realizes her family was murdered...
  • The Language of Bees. The first part of an arc, it deals with the mystery of a disappearing beehive, and the darker story of the disappearing wife and daughter of Holmes' talented and disturbed artist son, Damien Adler (Irene Adler was his mother). Holmes and Russell explore Damien's dark past, which involves the Shanghai underworld, the London bohemian scene, and a series of sacrifices and suicides that have something to do with a cult called 'the Children of Lights.'
  • The God of the Hive (published April 2010) is the conclusion of the arc introduced in the previous book. Russell and Holmes are trying to make it back to London but they are separated, each are burdened by the proceeding events, they are being pursued and obstacles appear at every turn. Then there's Mycroft's problem.
  • The Pirate King. Trying to avoid an uncomfortable visit with her brother-in-law, Russell ends up as part of a film crew filming a version of The Pirates of Penzance. Hiring real pirates to play the pirates turns out to not be a good idea.
  • Garment of Shadows follows Russell some time after the events of Pirate King in which Russell wakes up in Fez with blood on her hands and no memory whatsoever. The book follows her as she tries to figure out what happened to her with Holmes not far behind. Meanwhile, a civil war is forming on the outskirts of the city.
  • An untitled book not published yet that is supposed to take place in Japan.

The Mary Russell series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Guardian: Russell's aunt, whom she lives with after her parents are killed, is a greedy, controlling woman who sometimes goes out of her way to make Russell's life miserable for the hell of it. Russell hates her so much that she's never even named in the books.
  • Bad Dreams: Russell has lots of them, mostly nightmares about re-living the car crash that killed the rest of her family.
  • Becoming the Mask: Ali and Mahmoud, the deep cover agents in O Jerusalem, have spent so much time in Paletstine that they've gone native. Ali/Alistair finds it impossible to take up his old identity in Justice Hall. Mahmoud/Marsh hates it just as much, but is better at hiding it.
  • Berserk Button: Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualism, for Holmes. Being a rational, scientific man, he is loath to be associated with what he sees as superstitious nonsense.
  • The Butler Did It: Invoked and lampshaded in the first book during one of the smaller cases.
    Russell: (affronted) Are you telling me the butler did it?
    Holmes: I'm afraid it does happen.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The 11th book, Pirate King, opens with a note from Russell saying that "you have my full permission to regard it as fiction."
  • Chessmaster: Mycroft. Some of Holmes' plans approach this.
  • Compressed Vice: Russell is shown getting addicted to heroin very quickly thanks to the use of morphine years after her car crash. While getting over this is a major plot point in Monstrous Regiment, it is rarely mentioned after.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mostly Holmes and Russell, though most other characters get a chance.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Mahmoud and Ali in O Jerusalem.
  • Direct Line to the Author: King explicitly claims to be working from Mary Russell's own accounts of her adventures. The same is retroactively claimed for Arthur Conan Doyle and Watson's journals, and in The Game for Rudyard Kipling and Kimball O'Hara.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe
  • Fanfic: It is one.
  • Flanderization: King has been accused of this in regards to Watson.
    • Watson does get more respect in later books though.
  • Framing Device: The modern-day introductions.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Russell wound up with a lot of scar tissue from the crash that killed the rest of her family, and picks up more as the books go on. The most notable is the gunshot wound she sustains in The Beekeeper's Apprentice.
  • Historical-Domain Character
    • O Jerusalem has appearances by several historical figures who were involved in Palestine in the period, including Lawrence of Arabia.
    • Dashiell Hammett is a character in Locked Rooms.
  • Historical Fiction
  • Huge Schoolgirl: Russell fits this trope as a teenager, being close to six feet tall even at fifteen. She mentions specifically that she was ungainly and a hazard around fragile things, until Holmes set her up with martial arts lessons to get her limbs under control.
  • Insufferable Genius: Holmes, of course. Russell is usually better, though, in the earliest books, she'll occasionally be obnoxious just to get a rise out of him.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover
    • Lord Peter Wimsey has a cameo appearance in A Letter of Mary.
    • Kim is a significant character in The Game.
  • Last Name Basis: Mary Russell and the detective refer to each other as "Russell" and "Holmes" respectively. Even after they get married.
  • Master of Disguise: Holmes and Russell, though his fame sometimes makes this difficult and it's implied that the townspeople where they live are humouring them.
  • May-December Romance: See above; Russell is several decades younger than Holmes.
  • Mistaken for Gay: When Russell asked if her presence was an embarrassment, Holmes replied that it would be more embarrassing for him, a renowned bachelor, if she were a boy.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: The Hughenfort motto from Justice Hall, Justitia foritudo mea est, "Righteousness is my strength".
  • Public Secret Message: Holmes and Russell frequently use the "agony column" of the Times to send messages to each other in a kind of code.
  • Quest for Identity: Kinda averted in "Garment of Shadows" as the book opens up with this trope but it isn't the main focus of the book.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Russell's hair is hip-length, but she mostly wears it braided and stuffed under a hat. She says it's easier than a short cut (bobs were in huge fashion), which always needs combing and maintaining.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Holmes and Russell get married at the end of Monstrous Regiment.
  • Rescue Romance: This happens while Russell and Holmes are pretending not to be in love. They can't start the romance until they've both snarked to their satisfaction, though
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Holmes always looks fresh and stylish.
  • Sherlock Scan
    • Of course.
    • Russell demonstrates her credibility to Inspector Lestrade by doing this to one of his officers. She and Holmes do it to each other when they first meet. She's at a disadvantage, though, because she's read all Dr. Watson's books — which leaves her with nothing to deduce.
  • Shown Their Work: Good grief, yes. Whether history, early 20th century culture, or theology, King has done an immense amount of research for each book.
  • Sleep Cute: Occurs in The Beekeeper's Apprentice, during the She Is Not My Girlfriend stage of Sherlock Holmes's friendship with Mary Russell, and Watson makes this observation when the two fall asleep in a carriage, leaning against each other.
  • Snark Knight: Holmes
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Almost the entirety of Holmes and Russell's interpersonal communication.
  • So What Do We Do Now?:
    Russell: Is it always so grey and awful at the end of a case?
    Holmes: Not always. Just usually.
    Russell: Hence the cocaine?
    Holmes: Hence, as you say, the cocaine.
  • Succession Crisis: Justice Hall revolves around this.
  • Take Off Your Clothes: During the She's Not My Girlfriend stage of their friendship, Sherlock Holmes says absentmindedly to Mary to take off her clothes so they can put together her disguise for a case. He says this so matter-of-factly that she actually begins to do it. Then Mycroft interrupts.
    Mycroft: Perhaps this isn't the best idea.
    Holmes: What are you talking abo— (looks at Russell) Oh.
    (major blushing ensues for both Holmes and Russell)
  • Thunderbolt Iron: In The Language of Bees, the Big Bad has a knife made of meteor-metal that he uses for blood sacrifices.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Russell can be this at times.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Can be read by everyone, but you miss a lot without a working knowledge of early 20th century life and a large vocabulary, hopefully including some period English slang.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Russell often wanders around dressed as a man, as she finds men's clothing more comfortable and practical. When she first meets Holmes, he thinks she's a boy, to her hilarious indignation. She spends most of the opening of Monstrous Regiment of Women wandering London dressed as a guy.
  • Wife Husbandry: not exactly, but worth a mention. They meet when Holmes is well beyond fifty and Russell is fifteen. Russell, having just lost her own father, explicitly refers in the narrative to Holmes being a surrogate father.
  • World War One: The first book takes place during it and most later books reference its influence.


Marcus Didius FalcoMystery LiteratureMatthew Hawkwood
The Hound of the D'UrbervillesFranchise/Sherlock HolmesThe Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Mary ReillyLiterature of the 1990sMaskerade
MarvinNeeds Wiki Magic LoveMary Worth

alternative title(s): Mary Russell
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