Well, it was worth the wait! I remember feeling faintly disappointed after reading The Game, because it left off on a slightly unfinished note. In this novel some of those loose ends (the balcony that almost killed Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is explained for example) are tied up, which is good. I was beginning to wonder if Laurie had gotten so popular her editor had stopped doing his/her job - always a danger.
The beauty of King's "Russell and Holmes" novels is that you, as reader, can completely buy into the underlying fiction that Sherlock Holmes was not a fictional character. The idea is, for those of my (probably less than five) readers who haven't read the books, that Ms King has had these manuscripts sent to her by an anonymous source, and that she's just putting them together for printing. I find myself sometimes having to shake myself into remembering that there is absolutely zero evidence that Holmes was ever real. I love that. It works especially well in this novel, because of the way she continues the storyline from the previous one, tying up loose ends. She has completely avoided the trap of writing in Arthur Conan Doyles' style. Instead she uses the best parts of the well-known characters and creates her own universe. It's lovely.
A.C. Doyle also finds his way into this story, and is labeled a lunatic by an enraged and exasperated Holmes. I like that. It's only a paragraph, but it's a nice touch.
In this novel Russell and Holmes, after the Indian adventures of The Game (where we, incidentally, discover that Kipling's Kim is also a real person), go to San Francisco. This is Russell's original home town, that she left at the age of 14 after her family was killed in a car accident. Russell is plagued with nightmares during the trip, and Holmes worries about her health. Once there, he forms the opinion that there is something odd in the Russell family history, something connected to the great earthquake in 1906. Russell is to wrapped up in the trauma of her past to want to hear it, and Holmes has to enlist the help of a tubercular detective/writer by the name of Dashiel Hammett (and how great is that? What a stroke of genius!) .
Using Hammett in the story makes for some good quotes.
"Hammett sat for a minute drumming the finger-tips of his right hand on the table while he studied the man across from him, weighing the fancy accent and clothes against the man's undeniable competence and the vein of toughness Hammett could feel in him. Toughness was a quality Hammett respected."
" 'Mr Hammett, you have a way with the American vernacular that bodes well for your future as a writer of popular fiction.' "
San Francisco is Ms King's home town, and this shows. She knows the history, has done her research. We get a good feel for the residual trauma left after the 1906 earthquake, we are introduced to different people of the time - the Chinese minority, the street urchins, the jazz flappers who smuggle Joyce's Ulysses and revel in Fitzgerald. My one problem might be that in general Holmes and Russell are always a bit too unbelievably open to everybody without prejudice. They never seem to feel out of place and uncomfortable talking to someone. This is not, IMO, 100% believable, but I don't really care, actually. I still love these books and harbour secret fantasies about being part of the stories.
Oh, and I have one more "wtf" moment, to be honest: there is a car chase. A car chase in San Francisco. No no no no no! Laurie, say it ain't so!? I can't endorse the filming of these books now (which I heartily did before, picturing perhaps Alan Rickman as Holmes). The car chase scene might work in a book, but in a film... Done To Death. I'm very preoccupied with how that can be done originally now.
However, all in all a great read. I can't believe these books are not shatteringly popular. We should be hearing about them all the time.