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

Sunday, May 09, 2010

2010/40: Justice Hall -- Laurie R. King

Seldom have I enjoyed myself more with another person than on that long day's hike across the hills with the lesbian wife of the Seventh Duke of Beauville ... (p.109)
Hours after returning from The Moor, a bloodstained and battered stranger arrives at Holmes' and Russell's door. On closer inspection, he's not a stranger after all: he's the scion of an old and distinguished family, seeking help in a tangled matter of succession. The old Duke of Beauville is dead; his younger brother, the heir, is disinclined to claim the dukedom; the dead Duke's son Gabriel died in France during the war. However, Holmes and Russell uncover some irregularities in Gabriel's war record ...

This is on one level a classic country-house mystery (hunting parties, backstabbing dinners, hide-and-seek, and a spectacular fancy-dress ball themed around the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb): on another, it's an intriguing exploration of the sexual and social behaviour of the British aristocracy in the Edwardian era. (Mary Russell is an excellent observer of this, given her American origins: she's comfortable in the milieu, but views it as an outsider, envious of the sheer weight of history and liable to ask questions that nobody else would contemplate.)

I made a conscious decision to review this without spoilers: otherwise there'd be a great deal more discussion of identity (imposed and chosen), clash of cultures, race and racism. It's not my favourite Russell novel, but there are some very likeable and interesting characters helping and hindering Holmes and Russell. Also some children. And a joke about the Daily Mail which may be slightly anachronistic (am not up to date on newspaper history) but made me laugh anyway. And a happy ending -- with Justice, as per title -- for a change.

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