No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

2010/37: The Moor -- Laurie R. King

Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to have a husband whom I might astonish. (p.249)
Mary Russell is summoned to Dartmoor by a terse telegram from her husband, Sherlock Holmes. Apparently a phantom coach has been spotted; apparently a corpse was discovered, huge canine pawprints in the surrounding mud; apparently everyone on the moor knows all about Mary and remembers Holmes' previous visit very well, thank you. (See The Hound of the Baskervilles for details.) But it's many years since that notorious case, and things have changed. Baskerville Hall is now the property of an American, and the last of the Baskervilles is living the high life in Plymouth. (No, really. These things are relative.)

Russell and Holmes -- guests of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, who turns out to have a connection to Holmes -- find themselves wandering the Moor in variously damp, gloomy or otherwise unpleasant weather, together and apart, and encountering a fascinating array of characters, including a tender-hearted witch and an amateur archaeologist who waxes lyrical about the Druidical origins of various bits of rock.

I could really have done without King's transcriptions of dialect. "I shall not even attempt to transcribe the words as they were spoken," claims Russell, "since an alphabet soup such as 'Yar! Me luvvers, you mun vale leery, you cain't a' ated since bevower the foggy comed' makes for laborious, if picturesque, reading." (p. 83) But all too often she does attempt to transcribe said dialect, and it is indeed laborious.

I didn't really engage with The Moor as I've engaged with the other Mary Russell novels: Mary's involvement (though key to the resolution) is seldom demanding or exciting; she doesn't spend as much time interacting with Holmes as in previous novels; though she is fascinated by the Moor (and by Sabine Baring-Gould's proliferous and eccentric writings) she feels more of a spectator than usual. There's a nice sense of atmosphere, though: the Moor is very much a presence, though I'm slightly uneasy with Russell's sense of Presence and Holmes' pontifications on the Moor as 'focussing device' for the impulses of incomers.

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