Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Fiction
By Laurie R. King
Bantam Books, 2011
ISBN 978-0-553-80798-1, US $25.99
Allison & Busby, 2011
Hardcover, ISBN 9780749040918, £19.99
E-book, ISBN 9780749040963, £5.99
What if a producer decides to make a motion picture about a film crew making a movie about The Pirates of Penzance? What if the actors who play the pirates turn out to be real pirates? What if the general manager’s assistant goes missing after illicit guns, drugs, and alcohol turned up following the shooting of previous silent pictures from the same studio? Seems just the case to pique Sherlock Holmes’s interest, and at the behest of Chief Inspector Lestrade, Holmes suggests his able partner and wife, Mary Russell, would be the perfect person to work undercover as the missing assistant’s replacement.
Working with and for pirates is about the last thing Mary wishes to do, but remaining at home when her brother-in-law, Myrcroft, is to visit holds absolutely no appeal. Reluctantly, Mary signs aboard as Geoffrey Hale’s assistant. One of her jobs is to make the entire cast – a drunken actor, twelve teenage actresses, several accompanying mothers, a starlet and her reluctant hero, and seven constables – happy while placating Randolph Flytte, the owner/producer of the film who believes everything must be as realistic as possible and everyone has a price. Years as Holmes’s protégé then partner plus her no-nonsense approach to whatever obstacles confront her, enable Mary to calmly step into her role and succeed in her duties as the assistant, but she makes little progress in her surreptitious investigation.
While in Lisbon for the first part of filming, Flytte decides males actors cannot provide the realism he seeks when it comes to filling the pirate roles. Mary and a Portuguese translator and poet meet this latest demand, and onto the stage steps La Rocha, a man with leathery skin, a gold earring, a scar that reaches from his left ear to his larynx – the spitting image of a . . . Pirate King. In turn, he produces twelve additional “pirates” and an ever-present Lieutenant, who can silence a person with a single look. The film becomes even more realistic when everyone boards a brigantine and sails to Morocco. Or to be precise, Salé, once the home of some of the most notorious Barbary Corsairs, including Murad Reis and Dragut Reis. Before long, Mary begins to wonder:
What if Flytte’s cinematic extravaganza about a film crew making a movie of The Pirates of Penzance becoming victims of real-life pirates isn’t so fictional after all?
This is the eleventh installment from Mary Russell’s journal, but readers unfamiliar with the series will easily find themselves caught up in the era of silent films and the 1920s. Fans of Sherlock Holmes’ stories need not fear, as Laurie King writes on her website:
Mary Russell is what Sherlock Holmes would look like if Holmes, the Victorian detective, were a) a woman, b) of the Twentieth century, and c) interested in theology. If the mind is like an engine, free of gender and nurture considerations, then the Russell and Holmes stories are about two people whose basic mental mechanism is identical.
Pirate King is a rousing, sometimes humorous, and definitely swashbuckling detective story that spins an intricate web filled with mystery, history, and piracy. The author deftly sweeps us back in time to 1924 and before long we find ourselves walking the streets of Lisbon, meeting the Pirate King, and scaling the walls of a harem. Although not your typical pirate story, it’s filled with intrigue and adventure to treasure. But a word to the wise: Nothing is as it appears.
Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar
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