"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 eleven novels in the series, 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.
The Mary Russell series provides examples of the following tropes:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.