The Moor

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Our latest review visits one of the most famous series of Holmes stories not written by Conan Doyle—Laurie R King’s Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

The Moor by Laurie R King, Allison & Busby, May 2014.

Paperback. 320pp £8.99.

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

Like Laurie R King, I came to discover Sherlock Holmes in my middle years. Yes, I’d read the stories and even owned a few pastiche novels, but coming to find and love Holmes later in life seems, to me, to be the secret of her series’ success.

   In approaching the Mary Russell stories, I started not with her first, but her fourth novel, The Moor. It seems, if other reviewers are anything to go by, to have been tarred with accusations of tedium, poor pacing and a lack of focus. Not, apparently the best place to start.

   Well, I like a challenge, and if this is the worst, as my first, then enjoying it means I’ll have a lot to look forward to.

   As a sort of homage-cum-epilogue to Holmes’ greatest Dartmoor adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, it revisits the Moor and it’s history through the eyes of King’s Mary Sue, Mary Russell, with the assistance of the very real, and very eccentric nonagenarian, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

   There are murders, ghosts, military secrets, a Hound and even the Baskervilles, but this is not a comfortable romp through the standard Holmes adventure, but a detective novel in its own right.

   Unrestrained by the Watsonian narrative, King is able to explore Sherlock Holmes in a subtly different light, creating an equal partnership between the detective and his younger wife who, with her own skills and experiences, comes across as a sort of tomboy Tintin.

   With an older Holmes we see a retired superhero who lets his apprentice do all the heavy lifting, giving us conclusions reached not by one, but two different perspectives.

   The plot is simple enough, and like Russell herself, feels very much like something Tintin, or perhaps Blyton’s Famous Five, would stumble through. For all this simplicity, the book takes its time, and the place is slow, but also fascinating. It moves forward by exploring the character of Baring-Gould, and also of Dartmoor itself, with a real passion for the history and geography of the area on display. In doing so it does tend to sideline the main mystery, as most of the events are told not shown, and we rely less on any face-to-face encounter with the maybe-supernatural, and more on bringing the strands of the investigation together in the final act.

   With the case solved ahead of the denouement, I confess to a little disappointment in that we follow Russell, not Holmes, to the conclusion. While no different to how we often saw Watson bring a case to its end, being in at the deep end with Russell means I was not, perhaps, invested enough to hold back my desire to see Holmes in action to the last. A reminder, perhaps, that while the Sherlock Holmes stories were essentially ‘for boys’, this successor series is considerably less binary.

   The bottom line, I enjoyed it, and look forward to catching up on all the other instalments.

 

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