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on 10 July 2013
I loved the early Russell-Holmes books. The re-invention of Sherlock was clever and plausible, and the flowering of his relationship with the much younger Russell was poignant and credible. I liked them both and the way they worked together was fun. But this badly-researched (the G&S stuff is wincingly awful if you know the piece), badly-edited (Purdy guns, anyone? A quick google would have got it right first go), full of careless Americanisms - Mary Russell has spent most of her life in England, a short stay in SF isn't going to transform her speech that radically. There is no meaningful interaction between Holmes and Russell - indeed, the great detective is a mere violin-playing cypher in this. And worst of all, the plot just doesn't hold up. It reads like a silent-film storyboard, or possibly a Carry-On film without the laughs. It's just silly and I regret having bought it.
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on 28 June 2013
Whatever you pay for a Laurie.R.King book in my opinion is worth it. A trusted and worn friend such as Sherlock Holmes, who often features very little in the stories, is for me a mark of excellence. King continues in the same vein but marries Holmes' experience and knowledge with a freshness, a new lease of life, in a new set of stories. To date I have only read a few of the novels on offer but I have always been impressed and this novel, although not breaking any moulds, gives sufficient twists and turns to make you read on. Mrs Holmes is feisty, fun and dowdy as well as being intelligent, intuative and creative. This story is one of exasperation as it is not only of solving a mystery, but one of gainful employment in something she would rather not be doing. Although the ending scenes feel a little rushed, all holes are covered and the reader is not left asking questions, which is a particular bug bear of mine. The allusions to Holmes' brother are well timed and a little bit sinister (which I appreciated), but King makes our protagonist stand on her own which is a real achievement, considering the device of having Sherlock Holmes as central character.
For those reader's expecting a Sherlock Holmes experience, feel free to be disappointed. It is not Arthur Conan Doyle, and the author does not expect it to be. A new slant has been taken here, one fresh and funny, that perhaps Doyle fans won't appreciate.
It's no matter to me. King does well with this novel, gives a life to a Holmes and a young Mrs Holmes, we may not expect and does very well with it.
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on 22 September 2011
I've always found Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes books to be an interesting take on the character. Taking place just after World War I, they tell the story of Mary Russell, a young woman of quick intelligence who finds herself joining the famous (and often thought fictional) detective in new bouts of matching wits with dastardly villains, eventually becoming his wife. While I haven't read the whole series, I have read a few here and there throughout. I jumped at the chance to snatch up the latest Mary Russell novel Pirate King. Sadly, it felt like I accidentally jumped into an empty pool.

Mary Russell has gone on a lot of adventures as Sherlock Holmes' wife, but this is something even she has never experienced. Chief Inspector Lestrade asks her to go undercover with a British film company whose eccentric owner wants to do a strange version of the "Pirates of Penzance." It seems that somebody in the film production company is suspected of nefarious deeds on the sets of various movies the company has made. Mary is supposed to figure out who's behind everything from gun-running to drug smuggling, depending on the movie. Even Mary can't predict what will end up happening as the entourage moves from Portugal to Morocco, and she'll have to use all of her wits to keep the company safe.

Pirate King is obviously supposed to be a comedy; the situations that King puts her characters into are patently absurd, and many of the characters are over the top. Unfortunately, the purpose of comedy is to make the reader laugh, and there really isn't much that's funny here. The jokes and strange situations left me cold, mainly because the characters were either so broad as to be almost non-existent or they were hardly characters at all. King relies on many of the company players, as well as Mary's reactions to them, for many of the jokes, yet it's almost impossible to keep them straight: there are thirteen girls, thirteen constables, and thirteen pirates. King throws them all into the pot, in addition to the staff of the movie company itself, and it all mixes together into something unrecognizable.

The first two-thirds of the book sets up all of these situations, shows us the characters, and demonstrates Mary's problem-solving skills (unfortunately not in actually solving the mystery, but instead in dealing with the problems inherent in the film). These are supposed to be the main comedic bits, but since they didn't charm me as intended, essentially nothing happens in the book until almost the last 100 pages. This makes for a dreary read early on.

Pirate King isn't all bad, though. I love the conceit of the movie idea of a movie within a movie. The idea is that a group of actors who are going to star in The Pirates of Penzance happen upon some real pirates. Something could probably have been made from that premise, if it wasn't in this series.

I also enjoyed the intriguing figure of Passoa, a Portuguese gentleman who has been hired as a translator for when the crew is working in Portugal. He is also supposed to help them hire some authentic-looking pirates, which may prove to be their undoing. A poet at heart, he has a number of different literary personae. He's always fun to watch when he's interacting with Mary.

Once things start happening, the novel picks up, though only to move from a glacial pace to a slow and steady one. The climax of the novel isn't so much exciting as satisfying. King throws in a couple of twists that keep things hopping a bit (although even in this section of the book, there is little suspense).

Ultimately, Pirate King fails to achieve what it is trying to do. I'm not saying that a comedy in this series can't work, but this book is evidence that a farce probably won't. I understand the need to change the pace of a series a little bit by adding a little comedic spice to the drama of previous books. A good comedy is always enough to revitalize a series.

Unfortunately, this isn't it.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book © Dave Roy, 2011
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on 25 July 2012
Laurie J. King's eleventh volume in her Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series is a worthy addition to the sequence. It is set a few years after the period related in "The Game", "Locked Rooms", "The Language of Bees" and "The God of the Hive", whose events described over these four books actually took place within a single year. In "Pirate King", Mary Russell is now about 28, and her husband, the retired consulting detective, is clearly approaching 70 but still retains an excellent general health, both physically and mentally.

The concept of this volume, like its predecessors, departs radically both in its geographical range and in plot concepts. Mary Russell is persuaded ("invegled" may be a more apt word) by her brother-in-law Mycroft into infiltrating an English silent-film company suspected of having criminal sidelines. In an undercover role, she - assisted by Holmes, of course - joins the film crew on its latest grand project, making a film about a fictional film crew making a film version (yes, read that bit twice) of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance", without the music - this is the silent movie era, of course - but with real pirates.

The idea is of course hilarious, but as usual in this series, the excellent writing gives persuasive credance to the bizarre tale. The locations where filming takes place range from Lisbon to the Moroccan pirate stronghold of Salé, as well as a sequence set aboard ship. As usual in the series, characterisation and period detail are carefully crafted, with a careful dig at the excentricities of the early film industry - Laurie King lives not that far from Hopllywood, so is well at home parodying the foibles and vast egos of her fellow-Californians. Mary Russell's dry humour and self-deprecating style is as always in marked contrast to the film-makers, actors and extras who make up the company, not least when the whole menagerie is kidnapped and seems destined for the white slavery trade. The Gilbertian plots and lyrics are also carefully sent up; the whole works well together.
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on 4 November 2012
This is the eleventh volume in the author's "Mary Russell" series. It is an attempt at humor and adventure where neither Mary nor Sherlock need to save the world, nor even the British Empire. Mary is maneuvered by Sherlock, Lestrade and Mycroft into applying for a secretary/assistant position with a British film producer who is planning on making a movie about pirates. This producer is seen by His Majesty's Government as Great Britain's answer to the industry dominance of the American film studios, so his effort must be successful. The fact that certain nefarious transactions seem to dog the footsteps of this producer's so-far-successful efforts is really of no consequence to his investors (Royal, noble and otherwise), but they do want an official presence to watch out for their interests.

Mary, with her Oxford degree and her multiple Language skills, is a godsend to the producer, whose current assistant has gone missing, as he is planning on filming at locations in the Mediterranean. Eventually she and the `cast and crew' head off to Portugal to begin their travels. There they find an ideal pirate ship and acquire a crew of pseudo-pirates to man it. From there it is `off to Morocco' to begin filming their epic.

Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly, so Mary is faced with problems ranging from Languages and seasickness to oversexed cast and crew. She keeps her knowledge of Arabic to herself and so hears more than people intend. The pirates they hired begin to seem more and more real as the ideal pirate ship looks less and less ideal. The complexities grow even faster than the budget and more and more secrets pop out of the woodwork.

As a comedy, the effort falls a bit flat. Many of the situations are amusing, but they do not sing of silliness or resound with offstage laughter. It all seems a bit strained and no one seems happy, ever. Everyone seems to be taking things very seriously and yet no one seems really interested in the people around them. It just reads like a tiresome task that Mary must perform. Nothing is fun, not even the ending, with Mary asked to star in a new picture based on Byron's "Corsair" titled "Pirate Queen."

As an adventure, this book is interesting. It has lots of thrills and realistic menaces. Much of the Nineteenth Century lurks in out-of-the-way corners of the world, even after The War to end all Wars. The slave trade, both white and otherwise, remains active and Piracy is still profitable if performed discretely. However, the pirates can learn as well as anyone else and the opportunities in this modern world can be dazzling if a bit of imagination is applied. Unfortunately, the author has not really applied herself to creating her trademark intriguing characters. She has produced a variety of personages, but most are not quite filled out or believable. This book is just not up to her usual standard.

Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones, November, 2012
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on 11 November 2012
Having looked forward to this latest in the Mary Russell series, what a disappointment. I found it almost unreadable , as it felt as if the book had been thrown together in a hurry with little concern for any real cohesive plot, poor characterisation and, to be honest, none of the attributes of the previous novels in the series which grabbed your imagination and held your interest from beginning to end . This book I made myself finish...eventually, hoping at some stage it would get better, unfortunately it did not.
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on 13 February 2015
I came across this by accident, so I've started the series in completely the wrong place, but I'm not sure that this matters. I think I managed to get a hang of the Holmes-Mary relationship as I went along - or as much as I needed for this story. There are comments from longer-established readers of the series that the plots are running thin and I did notice this, in that I found myself occasionally wondering how and when Mary would progress in discovering the possible criminal. But to be honest, I was enjoying the chaos of the whole set-up so much that I didn't really mind - I felt as though I was being swept along on some sort of madcap ride that was totally suited to the silent movie business that was the backdrop for Pirate King, and I just sat back and enjoyed it, trusting that it would all be wound up in time for everyone to go home (which it was). I really liked Mary's voice as the narrator and I very much like Ms King's writing style. I am obviously a complete dimwit as the inaccuracies and Americanisms mentioned in other reivews mostly passed me by (in fact the only Americanims I noticed were Mary's, and as I now understand that she is, in fact, American that's not a problem). I will definitely be reading more of this series.
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on 9 August 2014
Mary Russell is persuaded to investigate strange goings-on with a film company, rather than suffer a prolonged visit from her brother-in-law, Mycroft. She gets a job as an assistant with the film company, only to find herself travelling to Lisbon with the cast of a new film, and thence to Morocco, with further actors who are not what they seem.

This is somewhat disappointing. I suspect the trip to Lisbon, and the antics of the film crew and actors, are supposed to be amusing, but I found them rather tedious. Things get a little more exciting once the group arrive in Morocco, but even then, the denoument all seem to be rather too easy. And the original detection, that problem with the film company, is all resolved in about a line or two.

The rather slim novel is augmented with a short story: “Beekeeping for Beginnners”. This tells the tale of how Russell and Holmes first met, as also told in The Beekeper's Apprentice, but here from Holmes’ view point. There is an extra adventure that Russell was never aware of.
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on 30 April 2012
I've only recently discovered the Mary Russell series so I've been able to read them over a period of a few weeks - the finding of a new unread author is my equivalent of finding buried treasure. Some reviewers didn't like this one - The Pirate King - so I wanted to redress the balance by giving it five stars. Yes, it is different to the other books, and the author acknowledges this but I thought it was an enjoyable and clever read which made me laugh out loud at times. Laurie King has obviously been watching the old silent movies. If you find the first few chapters confusing (there are an awful lot of characters) I would recommend persevering. The pace picks up once they get on board the pirate ship and it turns into a rattling adventure. Fans of Terry Pratchett (aren't we all) might find they enjoy this yarn.
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on 9 August 2012
Interesting story, the latest in the series by Laurie King, would normally hate other people writing about Sherlock Holmes,but this series is very well written. I would recommend it to any Sherlock Holmes fan.
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