Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King Reviewed, plus in-depth and lightning-round interviews.
Readers will not be surprised to find Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell sharp and smart, even in an adventure titled Island of the Mad. Prospects might seem dire as the novel begins. An aunt of one of Mary’s friend has gone missing from Bedlam, the infamous madhouse that conjures of hellish visions informed by Hieronymus Bosch. With terror in our hearts, we know that Russell will pose as a madwoman herself. Dire does not begin to describe the peril.
But Laurie R. King excels at eluding our expectations, and as a mystery and novel, Island of the Mad zigs when we’re expecting a zag and evokes smiles alongside (and often in place of) shivers. Firmly grounded in a vividly wrought historical setting, the latest Russell and Holmes offers sly satire and lots of witty repartee between Holmes and Russell as they encounter fascists in Italy and Britain. Fascism segues into opportunism, and profit becomes a seemingly legitimate goal for the might makes right set. While Mary checks into the madhouse, Holmes spends time with Mycroft. Paths cross then converge. And every time Holmes and Russell have a meeting of the minds, readers can be reminded of King’s ability to craft superbly entertaining dialogue.
King expertly weaves the strands of a toe-tapping historical mystery with understated, indeed, often-unstated observations that may or may not feel contemporary. Island of the Mad is fun and tense, but not irrelevant. What King does most expertly is to leave readers room to enjoy all the mental gymnastics in which they wish to engage. The story is compelling, the characters are charming, unless they’re awful, and King has plenty of room to twist the plot when we least expect it. The travelogue aspects are gorgeous; King evokes Venice in all its sunken, decrepit glory, and finds even more surprising destinations for Mary and Sherlock. This is perfect summer fun, and chock-a-block with enough thought-provoking needles and actual history to pleasantly fill our minds. Mary Russell’s travels in the past manage to not just entertain the present. They illuminate it.
Here’s a link to my in-depth interview with Laurie R. King as we discuss Island of the Mad.