Pirate King, Laurie R. King
I've been a fan of Laurie R. King's books for a long time now. I started with the Mary Russell novels, with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and after reading through those (only four at that point), I quickly moved on to the Kate Martinelli books. When Folly came out, it immediately became one of my desert-island books. I am still hoping for more Martinelli books, as well as a sequel or prequel to Califa's Daughters (published under the name Leigh Richards).
But then something happened with the last few books. Maybe it's me, but I haven't been able to get through Touchstone, despite a couple of tries. I did read the two most recent Mary Russell books, The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive. They seemed rather thin, as if the story was stretched to make two books. Then when I heard that the next book would be about Gilbert & Sullivan pirates, I had a twinge of doubt. While Laurie King is wonderful on character, setting and action, I don't think whimsy is her strong suit.
Any doubts I had about Pirate King were quickly put to rest. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which felt like a return to the Russell & Holmes that I love. As the story opens, Mary accepts a commission from Inspector Lestrade at Scotland Yard to investigate Fflytte Films. One of Britain's leading film companies, its investors are drawn from high society and even the Royal Family. But there are disturbing hints that the company may be involved in criminal activities mirroring its film adventures, such as gun-running and drug-dealing. In addition, the studio's secretary has gone missing, just as the owner/director, Randolph Fflytte, is preparing to shoot his new picture, a film about a film version of The Pirates of Penzance. While Holmes remains in Sussex to welcome his brother Mycroft on a visit, Russell takes the missing secretary's position and finds herself in the middle of a chaotic film shoot heading first for Portugal and then Morocco.
Where the Martinelli books are focused on police investigations, the Russell books tend to be more adventures with detective interludes. There is generally a case, but it isn't always the center of the story. In the first part of Pirate King, set in and around Lisbon, I got so caught up in the saga of the film, with Mary riding herd on a dozen blonde actresses, not mention the crew and even the director, that I tended to lose sight of what she was actually supposed to be investigating. (This part of the story dovetailed nicely with the book I'd just finished, Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures, another book about a chaotic silent-film industry.) Once the company sets sail for Morocco, though, the focus changes from fictional film pirates to their real-life counterparts, whose threat to Fflytte Films is even greater than the criminal activity Russell originally set out to investigate.
It was such a pleasure to meet Russell and Holmes again, and to be reminded just how good this series is.