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

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010/41: The Game -- Laurie R. King

Amber, when warm, gives out a faint aroma, the odour of slow time. I put the spilling double-handful up to my face and inhaled its trace of musk, laced with the tang of betrayal. Sunny Goodheart gave me the necklace because it looked pretty on me; I accepted the gift because it would remind me of consequences. (p. 203)

Holmes and Russell journey to India at Mycroft's behest, to investigate the unexplained deaths of several undercover agents -- and the disappearance of Holmes' old friend Kimball O'Hara, the eponymous hero of Kipling's novel Kim . (Yep, this is crossover fanfic.) Russell finds herself jealous of Holmes' first apprentice, who Holmes "taught so assiduously and [came] to admire so warmly, nearly a decade before I was born" (p. 60). Holmes reveals a considerable amount about his activities during the Great Disappearance (1891-4).

The journey to India is not without incident: when the pair arrive they're swift to don disguises and insinuate themselves into the country, aided and abetted by a precocious child who's far too clever for his own good. Holmes and Russell head north to the small but strategically-located state of Khanpur, ruled by a Westernised maharajah who's extremely wealthy and dangerously bored. He's assembled a court of people who intrigue him -- including an American Communist and his naive young sister, a pair of lesbian artists, a Sikh flapper, and a frustrated novelist -- and he doesn't appreciate ingratitude in his guests. Russell's visit to Khanpur poses several new challenges, including dancing girls, clockwork toys, the ancient sport of pig-sticking (hunting wild boar, with spears) -- and, later, a hunt for the most dangerous quarry of all.

This is India a generation before independence, with the British uneasily aware that their time is drawing to a close, and wary of the Russian Empire to the north. King has a good eye for telling detail, and Mary Russell's almost claustrophobic sensory overload is vividly drawn. "This is a land that gives one little of what is expected or desired, but an abundance of what proves later to have been needed," observes Holmes after one outburst: but then, he's been there before ...

The Game is more of a swashbuckling spy story than a murder mystery: some scenes could've come straight out of an (early) Indiana Jones film, and there's considerably more risk and mayhem than in earlier novels. Perhaps because of the danger, there's also more sense of the intimacy of Holmes and Russell's relationship: never cloying or explicit, but much more present.

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