Set in San Francisco in the early 1920's, Locked Rooms is a mesmerizing tale which begins as Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes leave India aboard a ship bound for California. Vivid, unsettling dreams begin to plague Russell, and Holmes believes the dreams, along with Russell's erratic behavior, are caused by repressed childhood memories. At first, Russell denies having lived in San Francisco for more than a very short time, but does confess that she has almost no conscious memory of her childhood between the ages of six and fourteen, when her parents and younger brother died in an automobile accident. Russell, thrown free of the car before it plunged off a cliff, was seriously injured both physically and emotionally.
Once in San Francisco, Russell meets with the family lawyer to settle legal affairs concerning her inheritance, and to obtain the keys to the family home. To her surprise, she is told that the house has been vacant and locked since her parents' untimely deaths, her father stipulating in his will that no one be allowed entry without a member of the family present. As Russell and Holmes explore the San Francisco area, and the family home, childhood memories begin to surface, revealing a twisted tale of violence and greed. Soon, it becomes apparent that many of the family acquaintances, during that time, have since died violent deaths. After an attempt to kill Russell is thwarted, Holmes is certain that the past has become the present, and that perhaps the tragic car crash was no accident.
Locked Rooms is rife with richly drawn characters: Tom Long, the adopted son of an Oriental couple who served the Russells as gardener and cook; Mrs. Adderley, an elderly neighbor who remembers the Russell family as they coped with the 1906 earthquake and fires; Aunt Dee, a friend to Mrs. Russell, and daughter Flo; Dashiell Hammett, a young writer who sometimes does investigative work for Pinkerton's to help support his wife and child; and San Francisco itself, from Chinatown to the wharf area, both in 1923 and during the 1906 earthquake that all but destroyed the city. Descriptions of the city and its people, during the earthquake and subsequent fires, are detailed and vivid, lending a wonderful, historical flavor to the book.
Locked Rooms is divided into five sections, with three of these divisions told in Mary Russell's first person voice and two in third person voice, describing Holmes' investigations into Russell's past. As with all Laurie King novels, the writing is superb, and Locked Rooms is a welcome addition to this series.