- Title: A Monstrous Regiment of Women
- Author: Laurie R. King
- Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #2
- Genre: Mystery
- Format: Paperback
- Source: Library
- Reviewed by: Olga
- Rating: 3 out of 5
Description: Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award
It is 1921 and Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes’s brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology–is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell’s attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn.
Review: A confusing and inconsistent book. It’s advertised as “a novel of suspense” but the suspense only starts in the second half of the novel and it contributes very little to the plotline.
The novel takes place in 1921 in London and Oxford. The book follows Mary Russell, a young heiress reading (the British equivalent of studying – don’t you just love Anglicisms?) theology in Oxford, on her exploration of a new religious movement and its leader Margery Childe.
Like Mary, Childe is a feminist and she preaches the emancipation of women through Scripture. Mary is a feminist too, but as a theology scholar, she sees gaps in Childe’s rhetoric. Regardless, Childe’s charismatic personality attracts Mary, along with multiple other women.
Mary resents the emotional pull she experiences towards Childe. As an erudite, highly intellectual lady, belonging to the Oxford elite, Mary can’t meekly accept her own visceral reaction. She sees the truth: Childe is charming and vibrant but uneducated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lessen the impact of her preaching or her magnetic femininity. That Childe also appears to be the real thing, a mystic, having personal contact with God, only deepens Mary’s pique of contrariness. In her day-to-day life, Mary doesn’t really believe in God. She is a scholar and a skeptic, immersed in the theory of religious writing, but faith, so effortless for Childe, seems a foreign concept for Mary.
To justify her conflicted attitude towards Childe, Mary decided to investigate the cult and its inner workings, for investigative work is Mary’s hobby and passion. She is a protégé of Sherlock Holmes, who has been her mentor and dear friend for several years. The travails of their evolving relationship – from master-apprentice to man-woman – throb underneath the overt plotline – that of the investigation.
The first half of the novel was fairly slow, with lots of religious contemplations and pages of Childe’s sermons interspaced by little snippets of action which seemed inconsequential and unnecessary. It wasn’t actually boring, so I kept on reading, but it was pretty close to tedium. Then, finally, the second half of the story rolled in, and the action exploded into suspense. After that, the gallop to the end was almost breathless, leaving several subplots unfinished and dangling helplessly.
Mary as the protagonist was stimulating and three-dimensional, if in a rather cold, cerebral way – a fitting partner to Sherlock Holmes. She didn’t touch my heart but she did touch my mind.
Childe, a secondary character, was a much more engaging personage, almost the opposite of Mary. Warm and emotional and full of contradictions, Childe was striving for enlightenment but forced to look for it in the unlikely places. She didn’t seem in danger of ever achieving perfection or even contentment, and her life story, before and after the events of this book, would’ve made an immensely intriguing novel, if it were ever written. Sadly, the other secondary characters were pretty flat, including Sherlock Holmes.
On the whole, this book was interesting but rather more mediocre than I expected. Too much religious and spiritual mambo-jumbo, too little action. But the writing was good, very professional, and the descriptions vivid.
I’d definitely recommend this book to any Sherlock Holmes fan.