My southern grandmother often used the expression, “I’ve a mind to…” to mean she intended to do something, or felt like doing something. I’ve not had much of a mind for writing lately, but I’ve taken a mind to read quite a bit. I’ve just finished my third book in Laurie King’s series about Mary Russell, a brilliant young Oxford scholar who joins forces with Sherlock Holmes to solve mysteries both literal and figurative. In this volume, A Letter of Mary, an archaeologist friend of Russell’s presents her with an ancient papyrus which appears to be a letter from Mary Magdalene, in which she refers to herself as a “disciple” of Jesus.
Now, the very idea of a woman being one of the chosen 12 sends a chilling thrill up Russell’s spine. Since theology is her field of study, and since she is nothing if not an ardent feminist, the idea of setting the theological hierarchy on its head by disclosing this letter is very appealing. However, the precipitate murder of the friend who gave her the letter, followed by the complete ransacking of Russell’s own home, distracts her and Holmes long enough to allow her to rethink this move.
So the pair of detectives (now a married couple) join forces to solve the murder. Once again, King weaves a multitude of story lines into the plot…women’s rights in the 1920’s, the use of hypnosis in traumatic amnesia, the role of women in the early Christian church. And she deftly uses all these themes to illustrate the growth in Russell and Holmes’ relationship.
While the subject matter sounds weighty, King has just the right touch with humor, the kind of dry, slightly sarcastic wit you would expect of Holmes and a young woman of Russell’s inherent genius and education.
I particularly enjoyed this passage, a description of Russell’s enforced attendance at Sunday Service…
It was precisely as I had envisioned it, a nominally Anglican service conducted in an ugly Victorian monstrosity with no open windows, packed with overdressed enthusiasts, and complete with a sweating, roaring sermon based on an unspecified text but touching on topics ranging from employment problems to women’s suffrage to the duties of an imperial power. The sermon was one of the longest I have ever had the misfortune to be subjected to, and as the man could not cite his biblical references properly, I did not feel it incumbent upon me to listen properly. I let myself sink into a light hypnotic trance, fiixed an attentive look on my face, and reviewed irregular verbs. I worked my way through Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, French, and Italian, and had begun on Spanish when the sermon thundered to its foregone conclusion. We paid our silver, sang a few more thumping hymns, and were give a blessed release.
I’m really growing to love this series, and I’m so pleased there are quite a few more which I can look forward to reading.
As for today, a good portion of this afternoon will be spent on my porch with Pat Conroy’s new novel South of Broad.
Now tell me, what are you reading this Sunday?