A few books back Laurie R. King sent Mary and Sherlock on a World Tour, so that Holmes and his wife, Miss Russell, got to see all kinds of exotic places and have all kinds of adventures. This time round we find the happy couple back home in England with an extended flashback of their last great destination, Imperial Japan. As with most Historical Authors, Laurie can’t resist dropping famous people into her tale. This time round the famous person is Hirohito, the sad little Emperor of Japan. Also mentioned in passing are Frank Lloyd Wright, the poet Basho, and very likely countless other famous figures from the 1920s I’m not familiar with.
The story is about a bit of blackmail and a clever young Ninja. This is not a story for the die hard Sherlock Holmes fan, since Holmes always takes a back seat to Mary Russell. In Dreaming Spies Sherlock plays even a smaller role than usual. I think his biggest contribution to the plot is when he buys Mary some clothes. But then, Mary doesn’t do a lot of detecting either, she gets to play second fiddle to the Super Ninja Sato. If this were a TV Show I would say this was a Pilot Episode for a new series about a perky young Ninja.
Like most of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, it’s more of a love song to its time and location than a mystery. There are long passages about a cruise ship, about the Imperial Hotel, about the Japanese countryside and people, and about Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The heart of the story sees Russell and Holmes watching while others act, listening while others talk, hiding while others step forward. Some of the best passages have to do with Mary overcoming her shyness when it comes to bathing with men in super heated Japanese baths and her surprise that people use sex toys.
One odd note that is always hit in these kinds of books is that modern writers have Sherlock take pot shots at Arthur Conon Doyle and what a hack writer Dr Watson is. I always find this a bit odd, since it is a love of ACD’s creation that allows these writers to have a career at all. Still, it is a minor gripe.
I listened to the audiobook version of Dreaming Spies and the reader, Jenny Sterlin, does her usual great work here. If you liked the last few books in this series, you should like this one as well. I would just like it better if Sherlock got to play a slightly larger role once in a while.