Mary Russell's War

And other stories of suspense

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Laurie R. King illuminates the hidden corners of her beloved Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series in this dynamic short story collection.
In nine previously published short stories and one brand-new, never-before-seen Sherlock Holmes mystery—available together for the first time—Laurie R. King blends her long-running brand of crime fiction with historical treats and narrative sleight of hand. At the heart of the collection is a prequel novella that begins with England’s declaration of war in 1914. As told in Mary Russell’s teenage diaries, the whip-smart girl investigates familial mysteries, tracks German spies through San Francisco, and generally delights with her extraordinary mind—until an unimaginable tragedy strikes.
Here too is the case of a professor killed by a swarm of bees; Mrs. Hudson’s investigation of a string of disappearing household items—and a lifelong secret; a revealing anecdote about a character integral to The God of the Hive; the story of Mary’s beloved Uncle Jake and a monumental hand of cards; and a series of postcards in which Mary searches for her missing husband, Sherlock Holmes.
Last but not least, fans will be especially thrilled by Mary’s account of her decision, at age ninety-two, to publish her memoirs—and how she concluded that Ms. King should be the one to introduce her voice to the world.
Praise for Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell mysteries
“The most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”—Lee Child
“The great marvel of King’s series is that she’s managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart.”The Washington Post Book World
“A lively adventure in the very best of intellectual company.”The New York Times
“Erudite, fascinating . . . by all odds the most successful re-creation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted.”Houston Chronicle
“An engaging romp guaranteed to please . . . perfectly written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”USA Today, on Pirate King
“Mesmerizing—another wonderful novel etched by the hand of a master storyteller. No reader who opens this one will be disappointed.”—Michael Connelly, on The God of the Hive
“Historical fiction doesn’t get any better than this.”The Denver Post, on The Game

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Mary Russell's War

Every little girl should have an Uncle Jake.
The black sheep, the family rogue, whose exploits filled my child- hood with admonitions over the dire and delicious consequences of misbehaviour. When Uncle Jake wandered away from a family train-trip at the age of four, he was taken by Indians. When an adolescent Uncle Jake ran away to join the circus, he was nearly eaten by the lion. When Uncle Jake received a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories for his fourteenth birthday and began following suspected criminals around Boston, one of them turned his pistol on the boy at his heels.
Most astounding of all, every one of these cautionary tales turned out to be true.

“Russell, I find that difficult to believe.”
I blinked, pulling my gaze from the fire to the man slumped into the basket chair across the hearth.

“Lower your eyebrow, Holmes. All those stories were quite true. At least, they all had factual elements.”
“Why have I never heard of this mythic uncle before this?” “And how many years did you know Watson before you told him you had a brother?”
“That is not at all the same thing.”
“No, of course not. Perhaps I wished to be certain you could not flee in horror, and needed to wait until you had made an honest woman of me.”

At that, his other eyebrow went up, either at the idea of Sherlock Holmes fleeing in horror, or at my being made honest. I relented.

“Jake’s been gone a long time. And I suppose . . . well, I tend not to dwell on things that remind me of my parents.”

He returned to the pipe he had been filling before my thoughts had broken into the amiable murmur of the evening fire.

“Although I’ll admit,” I continued, “you may be right to some degree: I have little way of knowing if all the stories told about Jake were completely true. But I did confirm some of them, and I did know the man. Little about him would surprise me.”

Holmes dropped his spent match into the pieced-together Roman bowl that Old Will had dug up in the garden.

“He died?”

“I think so.” The outstretched hand paused, the right eyebrow quirking upward again. “Jake loved me. I can imagine nothing short of death that would keep him from coming to see me.”

“Truly? There could be any number—”

“Yes, I know. And it’s true, prison is by no means impossible. Perhaps I should simply tell you about him.”

The basket chair emitted a symphony of creaks as he stretched his long legs towards the fire. He threaded his fingers together across the front of his once-bright dressing gown, preparing to listen. However, once interrupted, my tongue hesitated to go on. What could I say about my father’s brother that did not come back to: “He left me, too”? Uncle Jake had tried hard to keep me from pain, but in the end ...
“So,” prodded Holmes, “did those stories about the lad’s troubles help to keep you in line?”
I had to smile at the thought.

The cautionary tales about Jake’s near-disasters had quite the opposite effect on my impressionable mind: namely, the temptation to follow in his footsteps became irresistible. Especially after he was banned from family mention in 1908, following an episode too shocking for consideration—“family” meaning, in the hearing of my grandparents.

For some reason, my mother had a soft place for her brother-in- law. His few actual appearances were memorable—no doubt ex- plaining why they were few. I could have been no older than seven or eight when he arrived on a summer breeze, borne across the Channel to Sussex in an air balloon. He even managed to come down a) on dry land and b) within a mile of the house.

Because there was the other thing about Uncle Jake: even my mother, who had theological objections to the concept, was forced to agree that Jake possessed a guardian angel. The Indians returned him, the lion did not like the taste of his shoes, the criminal’s hand was stayed by young Jake’s blond, blue-eyed innocence—and, years later, the changeable breeze of the Channel held steady for the requisite hours of the crossing. By the time the dot on the horizon had grown, neared, become recognisable, then begun to descend, half the population of East Dean was scurrying along below, eyes lifted and feet stumbling.

Had this been 1914, he’d have been shot down. But war was half a dozen years away, as far off as any tragedy could be, and so the amateur aeronaut came down towards the earth, skipping over roof- tops, narrowly missing a collision with the church tower. The basket snagged among the tops of the trees along the Eastbourne road, shook itself free without quite coming to grief, and cleared a very solid wall by the breadth of a hair before the great bag collapsed, its basket thumping down in the Padgetts’ front garden. It would be hard to say who had the widest grin: the small man who climbed out of the wicker gondola, or the children bouncing around him like an overturned bucket of hard-rubber balls. Even my father, attempt- ing an expression of adult disapproval, found it difficult to keep his mouth under control. Uncle Jake pressed through the front row of witnesses, patting excited heads all the way, to come to a halt at the toes of the taller, older man. My father stood firm, enforcing the scowl on his face. Uncle Jake cocked his head, the mischief on his face only growing, until Papa gave up, meeting his brother in a hard embrace.

Jake stayed with us for a week that time, teaching us how to make those miniature hot-air balloons called sky lanterns, foot-wide paper shells lifted by the heat of a tiny flame: it was pure magic, watching a glowing orb lift into the night sky and meander away. For the rest of that summer (which, fortunately for the fields and thatch rooftops, saw regular rain) it was difficult to find a candle in any shop of the South Downs.

Then on the eighth day—again, typical of Jake—he was gone, leaving behind the folded-up balloon, a community of fervent young lantern-makers, and a wistful awareness of having been the recipients of a Visit.

Still, my brother and I were more able to absorb the disappointment than others because it was already nearly September, which meant that Christmas was only a few pages away on the calendar.

Some explanation may be required. Levi and I were Jewish, because Mother was. Papa’s American Christianity rode lightly on his shoulders, so that when the two were married—or long before, if I know Mama—he freely agreed that any children from their union would be raised according to her traditions, not his.

Except when it came to Christmas. He did not mind what the holiday was called—generally, Mama termed it “Winter Solstice” in private and “the holidays” when talking to others, although she had been known to slip and give December 25th its traditional name— but he did insist on most of the trappings: roast goose, mince tarts, mistletoe sprigs, and morning presents—everything short of church services and the more religious carols.
It was, for children, the best of both worlds. Better still, in order to celebrate far from the eye of Mama’s rabbinical father, we quietly took ourselves from London to our holiday home on the South Downs for the entire month, there to decorate a tree, fill the house with delicious smells, and wait for Papa to arrive.

You see, we went long periods during my childhood without our father. My mother, my brother, and I had left our home in San Fran- cisco for England (the full reasons for this I was not to understand until much later) a few months after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Until 1912, when we returned to the Pacific Coast, England was where the three of us lived, while my father, tied to family business interests in California and Boston, would make the trip across a continent and an ocean twice a year: for the long summer holiday, and for a too-brief winter visit.

Thus, even without Uncle Jake’s contribution, December was a period rich with significance. As the year faded, anticipation grew. In early December, our tutors were dismissed, our trunks dispatched, and we boarded a south-bound train for Eastbourne.

Sometimes, packages were already waiting for us, collected by the village woman who kept the house both when we were there and in our absence: packages large and small, with numerous stamps or none at all, bearing return addresses from London, from America, or from the world beyond. The tidiest—always rectangular— were from our grandmother in Boston, predictably ill-suited for our age (the toys), our bodies (clothing), or our interests (books). Only slightly less boring would be those from the London shops, purchased by Mother, who never really understood that Christmas was about thrill, and thus could be depended on to produce the next book in a series, a packet of our respectively preferred sweets, and any piece of clothing or equipment we had taken care to mention to her in November. Father’s were considerably better, although they were as apt to be puzzling as exciting (such as the year he decided I might enjoy learning to fly-fish) and often did not reach us until we had returned to London in the new year.

But the very essence of Christmas throughout my childhood were the well-travelled parcels that arrived with Jake’s bold handwriting on them. Never neat, rarely rectangular, almost always from some unexpected corner of the globe, Jake’s presents might have been specifically designed for the purpose of driving parents mad. What adult would send a collection of explosive, corrosive, and poisonous chemicals to a five-year-old boy—even if that five-year-old was Levi Russell? Or the shrunken head with the postmark from Ecuador? Or the tall crate covered with mysterious ink designs that arrived late on Christmas Eve, with my name on it, and kept me from sleep all the long night. It proved, once I had burrowed through the excelsior the next morning, to contain an antiquated Japanese air rifle, magnificently engraved, wickedly accurate.

Uncle Jake’s gifts tended to mysteriously disappear soon after our return to London. A few of them turned up, years later, in a storage shed down in Eastbourne I had not known the family possessed. Others I suspected had been anonymously donated to one museum or another: one New Guinean spear in the Pitt Rivers looks remarkably familiar. But other gifts were less tangible, and stayed with the family forever.

For example: One snowy Christmas morning, probably 1909, a knock on our door heralded not neighbours or carollers, but a heavily-wrapped individual (wrapped in woollen garments, that is, not decorative paper) with snow on his boots and a sheaf of pages clutched between his icy fingers. Mother pulled him inside, thawed him out, gave him food and a couple of powerful drinks, then sat in bemusement as the hairy young fellow rose to his feet, cleared his throat, and read to her a series of poems written on the sheets of paper. He then laid down the poems, resumed his garments, tipped his hat to her, and said, “I am asked to say that your brother-in-law wishes you many happy returns of the day, and much poetry in the coming year.” Then he trudged off through the snow in the direction of Eastbourne.

Another year, a shipment of penguins bound for the London zoo went inexplicably astray, ending up at our front door. Since it was Christmas day, with limited trains to London, and since the poor creatures were clearly in need of both exercise and a meal, the entire village was treated to the spectacle of seventeen Antarctic natives gobbling English herring and tobogganing in their feathered evening wear along the snow-covered Downs.

- About the author -

Laurie R. King is the award-winning, bestselling author of seventeen Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, and many acclaimed standalone novels such as Folly, Touchstone, The Bones of Paris, and Lockdown. She lives in Northern California, where she is at work on her next Mary Russell mystery.

More from Laurie R. King

Mary Russell's War

And other stories of suspense


Mary Russell's War

— Published by Alibi —