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Friday, June 02, 2006

Justice Hall by Laurie R. King

Boy, my first month posting about individual books, and already I'm a slacker. This was possibly not the best time of year to do this: we're in the middle of the celebration season that starts with Mother's Day, doesn't end until Minion # 1's birthday in the middle of July, and includes at least one holiday or birthday in every two-week period. To make matters worse, two of the birthdays are big ones: the birthday Sunday is a 16th, and the one in July is a 21st.

And today was Minion # 3's science fair, so that blew the whole morning. Not that I regret it--he was glowing, and very proud of his sugar crystal experiment (did you know that crystals grow best in distilled water and worst in carbonated water?).

And tonight is our neighbors' Polterabend, which I'm not really clear on. Guess I'll find out.

Okay, enough excuses.

****½ Justice Hall by Laurie R. King. Mystery.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are called to a country estate, the Justice Hall of the title, to find a way to convince an old friend to renounce his title and return to his life as a spy in Palestine. The book, then, is the story of Holmes and Russell uncovering the family's secrets, solving some riddles, and coming up with a viable heir so their friend will no longer be torn between duty and desire.

By all rights, I shouldn't have liked this story. It's slow-moving, doesn't have a clear direction, the solution was almost too convenient, and yet...

This is a perfect example of how my reading tastes have changed over the past couple of years. I read all the previous books in this series in 2002--all the books that were out in paperback at the time. And either this one is much better than the others, or I'm looking for different things, because I felt the previous ones were all solid 4-star reads. That is, I felt they were entertaining, but not great. So of course I feel compelled to dissect the discrepancy in my opinions.

To be sure, the first books would likely still get lower ratings from me because the Holmes/Russell romance is so squick-ful. That age difference--what is, it? 40 years? 50?--is just way too hard for me to get past. This book focused much less on their relationship, for which I'm grateful. There was also a Mary-Sue-ish-ness to the earlier books. Mary Russell, as a very young woman, is so smart and so attractive that she entices the notoriously misogynistic Sherlock Holmes. Not only that, but despite her age, she's his equal in deduction.

Okay, maybe it wasn't a change in reading tastes--maybe it's just that now that the series has moved past getting the two of them together, I can ignore that part of it and just enjoy the story.

The pace was slow, but it was compelling. Even when nothing had really happened yet, I was still eagerly turning pages. King is a master at creating an atmosphere of intrigue. The characters were complete, interesting, and individual, and I cared about them.

I have the next one in my TBR pile. I'm looking forward to it.


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