on June 22, 2004
I have been into the Mary Russell series for a few years, and this book has been one of my favorite books ever since. Although O Jerusalem has a slower pace than The Beekeeper's Apprentice, it still manages to capture the flavor of the Mary Russell series while incorperating a lot of the Middle Eastern culture. It begins with Mary and Holmes escaping from a deadly enemy back in England. Holmes' brother, Mycroft, suggests a few places for them to go, and they end up landing in Palestine. Their guides, Ali and Mahmoud, lead them through deserts, villages, and wadis as they look for the answer to the mystery. What started as a simple murder evolves into a complex mystery involving salt smugglers, bombs, and the famous Dome Rock. It (the mystery) is based on the precarious balence between the different religions living together in the Holy Land, each doubting the other.
What makes this book stand out is the amount of history and culture included, much more than The Beekeeper's Apprentice had. I would say Laurie King chose to focus more on the culture rather than the plot or character developement, because it seems to me that the plot is a bit difficult, and the character's personalities aren't as well described as in The Beekeeper's Apprentice. However, I believe that too is a part of how the Middle East is potrayed to the outside world- in other words, a bit mysteriously. In any case, I think this is one of the best books so far in the series, and it is definitely worth giving a try.
on May 26, 2004
The fifth book In Laurie King's Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series is, in my opinion, the best since the initial book. Holmes and Russell explore their relationship while escaping from danger in the first book and investigating for Mycroft. I found the background of Jerusalem after the first world war intriguing, and the interplay of cultures compelling. It is interesting that the author made references to this adventure in previously written books since this one takes place at and earlier time than some books (the same time as The Beekeeper's Apprentice.) I suspect that she had in mind that she would tell this story at some point. Perhaps the research took some time.
The testing that Russell and Holmes go through in this book make the changes in the characters when they return to London in the first book realistic. I admire the writing craft as true to the individual plot and true to the development of the characters during the series. I'd love to sit down and talk to the author about this book.
on May 20, 2004
Laurie King has written a number of these books now, with the main character a young girl who shows Sherlock Holmes how a woman can be just as effective as a man in a whole list of different ways. This is of course a very modern idea, and it's doubtful that the real Sherlock Holmes, written by the real Conan Doyle, would have espoused this view, but we give her the benefit of the doubt because the premise is fun.
Here, though, the premise isn't that fun. For mysterious reasons (apparently regarding the end of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, which I don't remember very well) Holmes and his young friend Mary Russell are thrown ashore in Palestine ca. 1919, courtesy of Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft. They immediately hook up with a couple of mysterious local Arabs, who guide them about the country aimlessly, after making clear how useless they think Holmes and Russell are. It takes several hundred pages before things actually get going.
The difficulty is that this really isn't a detective novel: instead, it's a spy novel, and a slow-moving one at that. It's 300 pages or so before the plot actually takes shape and we know what Holmes and Russell are looking for. It's slow and not very suspenseful, and it takes so long to get going that by the time it does, we don't care what's going on. I have to confess that while some of the characters were interesting, the plot was so moribund that I wasn't that impressed. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone other than Holmes fanatics.
on February 8, 2004
Laurie R King's "O Jerusalem" is another instalment in her series dealing with turn-of-the-century feminist Mary Russell's professional (and marriage) relationship to the most famous detective in the English-speaking world - Sherlock Holmes. Readers who have not begun with the first book in the series ("The Beekeeper's Apprentice") may have a difficult time if they join the series at this juncture, as much of Mary's back-story is taken as read.
That said, "Jerusalem" is not necessarily the sequel to the previous work ("The Moor") in the way that "The Moor" was the sequel to "A Letter of Mary".
As fans of the series will recall, during "Beekeeper" Holmes and Russell were forced to leave England for a time under threat of their lives. Choosing to do something productive during their enforced absence, the duo are referred to as having done some work for Holmes' brother - the inimitable Mycroft Holmes - in Palestine. "Beekeeper" does not contain any more of this interesting episode, however King promised that it would be written. "O Jerusalem" is that episode.
As a result, the reader needs to remember that Mary Russell is now 19 again and most decidedly not married to Holmes. While there are certain overtones in the book implying that it was in Palestine that Russell realised whatever feelings she had for her partner-in-sleuthing, King does not dwell on any romantic implications.
The scene is Palestine at the end of the First World War. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire from within has resulted in the attempts by many of its former constituent parts to declare independence. In all of this, Palestine is governed by General Robert Allenby and his officers.
It is into this interesting milieu that Holmes and Russell arrive to work with Mycroft's men-on-the-spot. These men turn out to be the incomparable Mahmoud and Ali Hazr, two Bedu (Bedouin) brothers who work as itinerant scribes for local villagers. The brothers are anything but pleased to see that Mycroft has given them extra help - especially when they realise that one of their assistants is a woman.
One of the main themes of this novel is the growing trust between the Hazrs and Mary Russell. King phrases this, in parts, as being almost a feminist victory in what was then (and is now) a strongly male-dominated society. Mary's skill at dagger-throwing, for example, becomes a great asset to her in a memorable scene set in a remote village.
While it is debatable whether or not the Hazrs actually become friends of Holmes and Russell by the end of the book, it is certainly clear that a grudging respect is afforded Mary - or "Amir" as she is known while in disguise.
Another important theme is that of Mary's Judaism. King devotes many passages to the emotions brought about by Mary's entrance into Jerusalem, seeing the fortress of Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea. Indeed, much of "O Jerusalem" verges on a travelogue of the area.
Finally, there is also the contrast between the simple Bedu existence of Ali and Mahmoud and the transplanted English society of Allenby's men and the people of Jerusalem. King clearly relishes the irony in these differences and communicates this relish well.
You may have noticed that there has not been any mention of plot as yet. This is because the plot itself is secondary to the character development and - one imagines - Ms King's demonstration that she can be a serious writer if the mood takes her. To be sure, her descriptions of things ranging from turn-of-the-century Jerusalem to Bedu society are right on the money, but the "Sherlock Holmes in Palestine" part of the plot is a hastily-assembled business dealing with espionage with vague political overtones. It never really gets adequately explained, but it serves as a great excuse to wander four well-written characters around one of the most mystical settings a writer could ever find.
In the final analysis, this is one of those books you'll either love or hate. Don't read it expecting the customary "Holmes deduces the most obscure facts" ending, because such deduction as appears here (the location of a particular monastery) doesn't appear to have a great bearing on the end result. Read it instead as an evocative account of the Middle East after the First World War and you'll probably get more out of it.
King has managed, I think, to get inside Russell's head much better here than before. Earlier novels in this series featured Russell every so often doing a good impression of a plot device - and the same goes for Holmes. Here, Russell appears to be a much more authentic character.
My recommendation is that the reader try to get their hands on a copy of "Justice Hall" as rapidly as possible after reading this book. King makes the point in her foreword that the two books are connected, and the connection is much stronger when they are read back-to-back.
on July 31, 2003
Despite the low rating I have offered on this book, I have to admit that I enjoyed a good deal of it thanks mostly to Ms. King's wonderful ability to paint the story with detail and description that approaches the turn-of-the-century writing fitting for Holmes.
Unfortunately, the excellent descriptive elements of the narrative are wasted due primarily to the creeping paralysis of modern social views that take over the story from time to time. The book strays a bit too often into the desert of political correctness, if not blatant feminism (why, *naturally* a nineteen year old girl can be the intellectual equal of Sherlock Holmes, beat up a man twice her size, properly enlighten Arabs on respecting women, etc.).
Perhaps it is simply the author's personal need to speak out about the injustices of past history and lierature in the only way that she felt was open to her. While a noble cause (albeit somewhat misguided), I'd much prefer it be done on her own time and not on the time of those who enjoy a good Holmes story.
Even if the reader is not nettled by the "enlightning" of characters set a century in the past, there are still other problems with the book. For example, the main character (Russell of course, not Holmes), seems drawn to prattling about her religion (another personal stake for the author?). Doesn't seem to fit a Holmes story, but that isn't what we really have with "O Jerusalem" anyway.
The banner at the top of the paperback's cover reads: "A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her partner Sherlock Holmes" (HER partner?! Holmes a second-stringer?!). Clearly this implies that Russell, not Holmes, is the star of the story (and she is), so why bother with Holmes at all? Why not just introduce the character and let her grow on her own as a 1920's detective? If the author desires to create a character such as Mary Russell, why not just do so?
The answer is that what we have here is yet another writer attempting to graft their own, new characters into the already well-established world of Holmes, both for support as well as marketing. After all, unless an author has name value (such as a Stephen King or John Grisham), chances are a reader will purchase a new book with an established character like Holmes rather than take a chance on a new series with an unknown lead like Russell.
If the new character being introduced has any worth at all (as the Russell character seems to have), then it should be able to stand on its own without the crutch of Holmes to support it. The fact that the author chose to tack on to her series the immortal name of Sherlock Holmes speaks more of a lack of faith in her new character rather than an honest desire to expand upon the world founded by Doyle.
Compare this series to the excellent work of Quinn Fawcett and his Mycroft Holmes books, and you'll see what I mean. Fawcett obviously respects the characters as offered by Doyle, in the world offered by Doyle. He expands upon them in a proper and fitting way, while at the same time introducing his new characters into the story. At no time do any modern, pet personal causes of the author take over the narrative, and so there are no distractions from the late Victorian setting of the story.
The pity is that Ms. King has a great talent for description and action that fits nicely with the style of Doyle. If only Ms. King would undertake to write a straight, old-fashioned Holmes/Watson mystery, rather than bowdlerizing the works of Doyle with modern viewpoints and characters, the Holmes audience would be much better served.
on June 4, 2003
I don't understand why I've seen so many reviews that put this book down so horribly! I loved this story personally, rivalling it with "The Beekeeper's Apprentice." The setting makes you feel like you're really there and adds to the tension of the story. The plot is superb, with enough red herrings all over the place to make your skin crawl with delight!
I simply loved the way Laurie R. King (and because of this, Russell) really and truly understood and recognized these people as who they are and what they are, not trying to hide or disguise it at all. It is refreshing, truly.
This fine piece of work was wrought well by the master story-teller Laurie R. King, and is sure to delight you. Just as Russell had to show she was competent to Holmes, so she does now once again, this time to two Arab males that believe women to be inferior to everything else in the world, especially them. It is comic yet heart-wrenching, serious yet light. A hard thing to explain, true...but if you read the book, you will understand.
on November 21, 2000
A Sherlock Holmes story without a developed villan is not Holmes-- or enjoyable. One of the many reasons that I so enjoy the canon of 56 short stories and four novels is that Watson was always careful to be sure that we understood why the villan had behaved as he had. Mary Russell does not understand why and seems neither to care or imagine why anyone else would either-- it is sufficient that the matter is closed. For all we know, she was going to tell us but ran out of paper.
Then there is the problem with the narrator. It is hard to imagine a woman who is linguistically gifted and capable of throwing knives as well as a circus performer and still manages to be no more interesting than cold oatmeal, but that is what we have here.
This is less a detective story than a travelogue for those interested in biblical archaelogy. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a cracking good mystery-- the kind that keeps you turning pages and ends with your saying, "Why didn't I notice that the dog did not bark?" then you must look elsewhere.
This mystery needs a mystery, a narrator with a personality and a villan with motive and flair.
All these pastiches are pale imitations of the real thing, but this is a pale imitation of the imitations.
on June 29, 2000
When I first read "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" I was sure this was the beginning of a wonderful new series. The writing was sharp and evocative, the plot was intriguing and the characters really came alive. I couldn't wait for more!
Unfortunately the author has never reclaimed the past achievement. The writing remains exteremly good but the plots have degenerated to the point that, in "O Jerusalem", there is none.
Ms. King does a commendable job in painting pictures with her words, descriptions, and dialogs. Unfortunately in this book, the pictures are constantly of Mary Russell being dirty, smelly, hungry, etc. We are subjected to long discourses on historical biblical sites that add nothing to an already thin story line. Nothing is explained regarding "the case" but much of the book is taken up with arabic customs, words and dress. Interesting in a travelog but not in a "mystery".
I hope the next book in the series concentrates more on Sherlock Holmes, Mary Russell, and a good mystery than on Jewish custom and history.
on June 8, 2000
Laurie R. King's fifth book in her Mary Russell series continues the saga she began with "The Beekeeper's Apprentice". My personal feelings for this book, this series, and this author are of best report.
King's writings are not for the juvinile reader. She often uses words that are at times archaic, and the complexity of her sentances do require a certain level of concentration. This is not a book to be read while watching television or rooting for your daughter's softball game. This is a book for curling up by the fireplace with a solid hour-- and an hour is a conservative estimate. This is truly one of the books that you may lose track of time with. It is enveloping and intoxicating.
I do not recommend starting with this book if you are new to King's works. In order to understand her characters and writing style, I suggest you start with either the first Russell novel "The Beekeepers Apprentice", or her non-Russell "A Darker Place". It doesn't truly matter where you start, for with either beginning, you will always end in the same place - by the fireplace with a stack of all of King's books.