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Garment of Shadows: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Laurie R. King
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Review

“The great marvel of King’s series is that she’s managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart.”—The Washington Post Book World
 
Praise for Garment of Shadows
 
“As always, the relationship between Holmes and Russell is utterly understated yet traced with heat and light.”—Booklist (starred review)
 
“[A] taut tale . . . original and intriguing . . . This tantalizing glimpse into the life and times of a rapidly evolving Arabic society has remarkable resonance for our own uncertain times.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Those new to the series are in for a treat.”—Bookreporter

The award-winning novels of Laurie R. King are . . .
 
“A lively adventure in the very best of intellectual company.”—The New York Times
 
“Erudite, fascinating . . . by all odds the most successful re-creation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted.”—Houston Chronicle
 
“Intricate clockworks, wheels within wheels.”—Booklist (starred review)
 
“Imaginative and subtle.”—The Seattle Times
 
“Impossible to put down.”—Romantic Times
 
“Remarkably beguiling.”—The Boston Globe

About the Author

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, and the acclaimed novels A Darker Place, Folly, Keeping Watch, and Touchstone. She lives in Northern California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

I was in bed. A bed, at any rate.

I had been flattened by a steam-roller, trampled under a stampede of bison. Beaten by a determined thug. I ached, head to toe, fingers and skin. Mostly head.

My skull throbbed, one hot pulse for every beat of my heart. I could see it in the rhythmic dimming of an already shadowy room. I wanted to weep with the pain, but if I had to blow my nose, my skull might split like an overripe melon.

So I lay in the dim room, and watched my heart beat, and ached.

Some time later, it came to me that the angle of the vague patch of brightness across the opposite wall had changed. Some time after that, an explanation slipped out between the pain-pulses: The sun had moved while I slept. A while later, another thought: Time is passing.

And with that, a tendril of urgency unfurled. I could not lie in bed, I had to be somewhere. People were depending on me. The sun would go down: I would be late.

Rolling onto my side was like pushing a motorcar up a hill. Raising myself up from the thin pad made me cry out--nearly black out--from the surge of pressure within my skull. My stomach roiled, my ears rang, the room whirled.

I crouched for a long time on the edge of the bed. Slowly, the pounding receded. My vision cleared, revealing a snug roughly plastered room; hand-made floor tiles; a tawny herringbone of small bricks; a door of some dark wood, so narrow a big man might angle his shoulders, a hook driven into it, holding a long brown robe; a pair of soft yellow bedroom slippers on the floor--babouches, my mind provided: new leather, my nose told me. The room's only furniture was a narrow bed with a rough three-legged stool at its head. The stool served as a table, its surface nearly covered with disparate objects: in the centre stood a small oil lamp. To its left, nearest the bed, were arranged a match-box, a tiny ceramic bowl holding half a dozen spent matches, a glass of water, and a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles that appeared to have been trod upon. The other side of the lamp had an even more peculiar collection: a worn pencil stub, a sausage-shaped object tightly wrapped in a handkerchief, some grains of sand, and one pale stone.

I studied the enigmatic display. The little bowl caused a brief memory to stir through the sludge that was my brain: As I slept, the sound of a match scratching into life would wake me; the sharp smell would bite my nostrils; faces would appear and make noises; I would say something apparently sensible; the faces would bend over the light, and with a puff, I would be back in the shadows, alone.

My hand reached out, hesitated over the water, rejected it, and picked up the spectacles instead. I winced as they settled between my ears and the snug head wrap I wore, but the room came into focus.

The matches also came into focus: a cheap, bright label, in French. I picked up the box, slid it open, my nose stung by the smell of sulphur. Four matches. I took one, scraped it into life, held it to the oil lamp. A spot of warmth entered the room.

By its thin light, I looked down at what I wore. Drab homespun trousers and tunic. Bare feet. The clothing was clean, but not my hands. They looked as if someone had tried to wipe away a layer of some dark greasy matter, leaving stains in the deeper creases and under the nails.

I stretched the left one out nearer the lamp. Motion caused the flame to throw dancing shadows across the room. When it had steadied, I frowned at the finger-nails to which I was attached.

Not grease.

Blood.

The light of a candle/the sunshine smell of linen/the slope of ceiling/the soft throat of a young girl asleep/the blood on my hands--

The bolt of memory shocked me to my feet. I swayed, the room roaring in my ears, my eyes fixed on the flat, slope-free ceiling. Don't look down (blood on my hands)--don't think about the hand's memory of the smooth, intimate glide of sharp steel through flesh.

I ventured a step, then another, towards the shuttered window.

To my surprise, the latch flipped beneath my awkward fingers, and when the hinges creaked open, there were no bars. Why had I expected to be a prisoner?

The brilliance was painful, even though the sky was grey with unshed rain. I lifted a hand to shade my eyes, and squinted at the view: a dirty, cobbled lane far too narrow for any motorcar. One could have passed an object between opposing windows--had there been windows. I saw only one, higher even than mine, tiny and tightly shuttered. I could see two entranceways off this diminutive alley: One had been painted with brightly coloured arabesques, long ago, and comprised a small door inside a larger one, as if the carpenter had learned his craft on castles and cathedrals. The door across from it was a single rectangle, black wood heavily studded with rusting iron circles the size of my thumb-nail. Around them, grubby whitewash, a fringe of grass on the rooflines, chunks of plaster flaking from walls that bulged and slumped. In one place, wooden braces thirty feet from the ground kept two buildings from collapsing into each other.

The house I was in seemed to be the lane's terminus; thirty feet away, beneath the slapdash web of braces, the passageway turned to the right and disappeared.

I pushed the shutters wider open, intending to lean out and examine the face of the building below me, then took a step back as the left-hand door came open and a woman emerged. She was swathed head to toe in pale garments, with a straw bag in one hand and a child's hand in the other. She glanced down the alleyway, her eyes on a place well below me, and I could see her brown, Caucasian features and startling blue eyes. She pulled her scarf up over her face and tugged the child down the lane, vanishing around its bend.

Arabic; French; woman in a robe--djellaba, the internal dictionary supplied, although that did not seem quite right. Those clues combined with the woman's Berber features suggested that I was in North Africa. Algeria or perhaps Morocco. In a suq.

The knowledge of where was just beyond my grasp, like an elusive name on the tip of one's tongue. Similarly, how I came to be here. And what had been so urgent it drove me to my feet. Or why I had blood on my hands.

Or, my name.

Who the hell was I?



Chapter Two

Sweat broke out all over my body, despite the cold of the room. There was a good explanation, for everything. One that I would remember in a minute, once I could think around the pounding in my head. Or . . .

I turned to consider the narrow door. The shutters hadn't been locked. Yes, the window was high and the drop to the lane sheer, but perhaps it meant that my situation was not the source of that feeling of urgency. That the water in the glass was not drugged. That the door led to assistance, to information. To friends, even.

My bare feet slapped across the cold tiles. I stopped beside the bed, transferring everything but the lamp, water, and bowl into my pockets, then moved over to the door and put my ear to the crack: nothing. My fingers eased the iron latch up until the tongue came free; the wood shifted towards me. I was not locked in.

The odours that washed over me threatened to turn my stomach over. Frying oil, onions, chicken, a panoply of spices--for some reason, I felt that if I were more experienced with their names, I would be able to identify each individual element of that sensory cloud.

I pushed aside the evidence of my nostrils, concentrating instead on my vision. The scrap of corridor was no more revealing than the view from the window: the same rough herringbone on the floor, cobalt-and-cream tiles halfway up the walls, with crisp whitewashed plaster above; another door; a tidy stack of straw baskets; the suggestion of a house off to the left. I took a step out: To my right, a stone stairway curled upward out of view--to the roof, I felt, although I could not have said why. Then I heard a voice--two voices, so distant, or behind so many doors, that I could not determine the language, much less the words.

But I could hear the tension.

For some reason, I reached around to the back of my waist-band, my fingers anticipating a cold weight nestled against my spine, but there was nothing. After a moment's consideration, I drew a breath, and stepped out. Nothing happened.

I crept down the hall to the left and took up a position just before the bend, not venturing my head into the open. The voices were clearer now, the rhythms suggestive of Arabic. Cool air moved across my face and the light around the corner was daylight, not lamps, as if the walls of the house had been sliced away. Words trickled into my mind. Dar: a house of two or three storeys built around a ground-level courtyard, open to the sky; halka: its wide central sky-light; riad: a house whose inner courtyard was a garden.

Another brief internal flash: clipped green rectangle/rain-soaked brick walls/figures in academic gowns/the odour of learning--

I was gathering myself for a step towards that light when a harsh sound juddered through the house, coming from below and behind me at the same time. I hurried back into my tiny cell and across the tiles to peer downwards into the narrow lane--

Soldiers!

No mistaking that blue uniform and cap: two armed French soldiers, pounding on the door below.

Aimless urgency blew into open panic: I could not be taken by them, it was essential that I remain free, that I get to--

To where? To whom? But while I might have given a single gendarme the benefit of the doubt, armed soldiers could only be a declaration of war. I snatched the robe from the hook, stepped into the slippers, and made for the curve of steps leading up.

The upper door's iron latch opened easily. Outside was a terrace roof around an iron-work grid, open to the house below. On one side was strung a bare laundry line; the furniture consisted of six pots of winter-dead herbs and a pair of benches. The rooftop was empty--ha...
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