Sherlock Holmes review: ‘Dreaming Spies’ by Laurie R. King

Dreaming Spies. By Laurie R. King.

Laurie R. King has published “Dreaming Spies,” another Mary Russell book. Fans of her can commence buying it.

Are they gone? Good. They got the news they needed, so now we can have a little chat.

Laurie R. King Sherlock Holmes Review

Laurie R. King

Years ago, when my beard was not nearly as white and I had more time on my hands, I reviewed Laurie R. King’s “The Moor.” It was melancholy, historically accurate, and modestly paced, and I was probably not kind to it as a result.

Since I renewed my interest in Sherlock Holmes, I had decided to review her latest, “Dreaming Spies,” to see what would happen.

In brief, in this world Sherlock exists, but most people believe that he is a fictional character. It is 1924; he has long since retired from Baker Street, and settled down with Mary as “Robert Russell.” This time, Mary Russell and Robert are taking a slow boat to Japan. In India, the ship picks up Lord Darby, his new wife and his son. Darby has a reputation as a blackmailer, and Sherlock has decided to study him to see if there is a way of bringing him down.

In the meantime, Mary befriends Haruki Sato, a young Japanese woman, and convinces her to pass the days teaching them the language and customs of her country. Although she tells them that descended from a family of acrobatics, it becomes apparent that she has been trained in far more skillful arts.

This revelation occupies the first third of the book and involves many mini-lectures about how to speak Japanese, how to serve tea, the basic principles of Buddhism, even a discussion of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” In fact, much of “Dreaming Spies” is a leisurely journey into the heart of Japanese culture and thinking, as Sato is on a quest that involves Lord Darby and a dangerous gift to King George.

To say more would spoil the story. The title is a reference to Matthew Arnold’s poem about the “dreaming spires” of Oxford, which is where all the ribbons are tied up, for what it’s worth. The novel’s pleasures come not from the plot, but Mary and Sherlock’s journey. Their time in Japan is a fascinating exploration of a communal culture. Watching them dealing with money, train tickets and mixed-sex bathing — far more capably than I would — was the most involving part of the book.

And that’s what you must know about the series. This is not the Sherlock Holmes you would expect. In fact, I would not say that he’s Holmes at all. This is not meant as criticism but an observation. King has taken the character and made it her own, and if you want to enjoy her books, you have to keep that in mind (or else swear off them completely).

In short, if you can’t be with the Holmes you love, try loving the Holmes you’re with.