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Riviera Gold and Castle Shade

October 17, 2021

After reading fifteen of Laurie R. King’s novels about Mary Russell, I took a break. Recently, though, I read about the newest Mary Russell adventure, Castle Shade, at Shelf Love and it reminded me that I liked the series. So I found a copy of the most recent one I hadn’t read, Riviera Gold, and spent many contented evenings reading a bit of it before bed. It was just right for that kind of reading.

Riviera Gold takes place in summertime on the French Riviera, with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes working to find out who murdered a young man found dead in the apartment where Mrs. Hudson has been living, in Monte Carlo.

There are wonderful descriptions of Monte Carlo and the beaches, ships, and surrounding areas. It’s enough to make anyone long to travel there, especially if they can travel in style, as Mary Russell does. After a night at a Monte Carlo hotel where she’s met Holmes and doesn’t have her luggage, she calls the front desk and “the neat French lady’s maid who appeared at our door five minutes later noted down my measurements and my requests—not too short, not too extreme, and conservative about the chest and shoulders—with neither shake of the head nor moue of distaste. Twenty minutes later, I was picking through an assortment of remarkably fashionable garments that more or less fit me.”

Late in the adventure, Mary meets Picasso and has a conversation with him, even though “later in his life, all the world would know Pablo Picasso, but in 1925, few Oxford academics would have heard of him.” Mary and Sherlock always know more than other people, even about art. At one point, Sherlock has a brief conversation with Mycroft by telephone, during which he reveals that one of Mrs. Hudson’s oldest friends is none other than Lillie Langtry.

After enjoying one Mary Russell novel I wanted another right away, so I dived into Castle Shade, which takes place in Roumania, at Castle Bran, said to be one of the inspirations for Count Dracula’s castle. Castle Shade is as dark an adventure as Riviera Gold is bright.

Early in her visit to Castle Bran, Mary remembers reading “The Monkey’s Paw” and “lying in my lonely hospital bed…knowing that I, too, would ask for my family reanimated, no matter the result” while at the castle, and “as I sat there amongst the sleeping innocents of Bran, twenty years after reading ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and eleven years after the hospital, I became aware of a sound. Faint, still far way, but coming closer.
The hair rose down the back of my neck. My breath stopped, my ears strained, my eyes stared into the grey shapes outside the shelter—all equally futile. Nothing moved, yet there was sound. As if some creature was laboriously dragging itself along. Scrape; pause. Scrape; pause.”

Mary and Sherlock meet Marie of Roumania and her daughter Ileana, who asks Mary if she’s read Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, saying “Mother says the story helped change things. They’d had a law against it for years, but everyone ignored it until The Water-Babies. People were so upset at the idea of a boy forced to climb up chimneys, how he could never get clean, that the practice was banned. Mother and I read a lot of stories….Fiction can make people think. Not always, of course—sometimes they’re just for fun. I like those, too.” Mary responds by saying “your mother says you like detective stories,” to which Ileana responds “I do. They’re so clever, people like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. However, I have to tell you, my heart belongs to Bulldog Drummond.”

Despite the spooky setting, Russell and Holmes remain clear-eyed and focus on finding a human cause for the seemingly-supernatural goings-on at the castle. When they discover that Russell has two puncture marks on her neck after being attacked by some unknown person in the dark, this is the conversation that ensues:
“Russell,” said my husband, in the most phlegmatic manner imaginable. “I believe we now see what he was after.”
….At which point I was rescued by a flood of good, healthy rage.
“God damn it!” I shouted, Who the hell is playing silly buggers here?”

They find out, of course, and Marie’s reputation, not to mention her castle and those in it, are saved by the always-rational actions of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.

As Ileana says, these novels are “just for fun,” and they’re a lot of fun.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2021 9:11 pm

    Those do sound fun! I’ve been feeling the itch to read mysteries again. I go through phases.

    • October 21, 2021 1:24 pm

      I do too, and I always crave mysteries when I want comfort reading–I like having something to ponder that can be solved between the pages of a book.

  2. lemming permalink
    October 19, 2021 5:58 pm

    I’m reading Hannah Pakula’s biography of Marie of Romania, so your review is timely. 🙂

    • October 21, 2021 1:25 pm

      Isn’t it nice when reading dovetails like that? She was evidently a fascinating character.

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