Locked Rooms – Laurie R. King

April 6, 2017

Laurie R. King has done a masterful job of bringing Sherlock Holmes back through her Mary Russell series of novels in Locked Rooms, a psychological thriller as well as a cultural primer, published by Bantam Books, copyright 2005.  Russell is presented as the only woman who would match wits with the great detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s acclaimed Sherlock Holmes mystery series.  Holmes declares her to be “one of the most competent natural investigators he had ever known”.  So Holmes married her and together they solve any and all mysteries they encounter in their travels.


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Mary Russell is troubled by her recurring dreams while on a ship headed for San Francisco where she had grown up.  She and her husband, the great Sherlock Holmes, are headed there so she can settle some affairs regarding her father Charles Russell’s estate which she had inherited upon his death ten years before.  She feels she may want to sell the house and liquidate some other assets she owns.  Both of her parents and her toddler brother had been killed in a tragic motor car accident while she was thrown to the side of the road before the automobile plummeted over a cliff and burned.  Russell spent months in hospitals and under the care of Dr. Ginzburg who saw to her emotional issues.  With the prospect of returning to her childhood home these dreams intensify and her husband begins to worry about her absent-minded behavior.  Sherlock Holmes tries to help her analyze what the significance of the dreams are.


Upon arrival in San Francisco Russell and Holmes head to the lawyer Henry Norbert who’s father, and now Henry himself, had been handling Charles Russell’s legal estate affairs for decades.  The will has a codicil in it stating that no one is to visit the house without accompaniment by a family member or a representative of the Norbert legal firm for the ten years after Charles’ death so when they arrive they find all the furniture covered and plenty of dust on the shelves.  The house had survived the earthquake of 1906 but major repairs had to be done to make it livable again so while the family lived in a tent city Charles had seen to the repairs.

Russell and Holmes explore the house in hopes that it will trigger her memories of the great earthquake which she has no memory of and claims to have been in England at the time.  She and her mother traveled to England occasionally to visit relatives of her mother’s.  Russell finds pictures of her family and the Chinese couple, Mah and Micah, who were the family cook and gardener and had cared for the children.  By the kitchen sink she finds a bowl that once held water, a potted plant shriveled up and a mirror mounted very low on the wall.

Russell heads to Chinatown to try to discover what happened to Mah and Micah.  She shows the picture around and eventually comes to a bookseller who explains the significance of the mirror, potted plant, and bowl of water.  The objects tell of the ancient practices of feng shui which is used to focus energies in buildings and gardens.  Russell buys a book on the subject from the bookseller who’s name is Tom Long.  Long later comes to her home and saves her from a bullet by knocking her to the ground but is grazed by it in the shoulder so she brings him in to have Holmes patch him up.  Tom Long then reveals to them that Mah and Micah were his adoptive parents and goes on to tell a story of how the earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed the city and how Russell’s father helped his family in many ways.  But after the fire Micah and Charles seem to have had a falling out in their friendship and Holmes believes there is some secret behind this and starts to investigate, at least hoping to find out why his treasured wife was shot at.  He also is curious as to why Russell’s psychologist, her parents and brother, and Mah and Micah were all killed in a short period of time.

An investigator by the name of Dashiell Hammett teams up with Holmes and discovers that not only were Dr. Ginzburg, Mah, and Micah murdered but that the Russell’s motor car had been tampered with causing the fatal accident.  Russell and Holmes connect two of the dreams to events that actually occurred but the third dream is about a room where she is comfortable and it is speculated that it is a psychological safe place, but she keeps searching the house as well as her father’s old cottage which he had built piece by piece before he met Russell’s mother.  Russell meets a woman she used to call Auntie and her daughter named Flo, who was Russell’s childhood playmate and is now the epitome of what was known as a flapper.  Together they go out dancing and even though prohibition was still in effect Flo knows the clubs where something better than “bathtub gin” is served.  Russell later invites Flo and Flo’s boyfriend Donny to go to the cabin for the weekend where they enjoy themselves and Russell relaxes as some of her memories start to return.  Holmes in the meantime has found an ancient woman named Hermione Adderby who remembers the Russells from the time after the quake when they all lived in the tent city.  She supplies Holmes with photos that have Russell, her parents and baby brother in them.  This further helps to restore many memories.

Laurie R. King has written a truly great story here that is informative of what things were like during and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.  She also does a splendid job of making Sherlock Holmes’ marriage to Mary Russell very credible.  I will definitely seek out other books in the nostalgic series!

Literally, Paul.

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