With a knock on the door and a trail of blood across the wood floors of Sherlock Holmes’ residence, beloved and brilliant Mary Russell disappears from the narrative, her fate unknown until well into the novel.
This book is about the life of Clarissa Hudson, daughter of Sally and James Hudson. Sally was a governess and James a sometime sailor, but more often a petty thief working for a local crime boss.
Caught in a crime, the couple try to start anew in another city, but James’ past catches him. He agrees to take a job on a ship though he hates the sea these days. The ship sinks with no survivors, yet Sally has a letter from James that he’s in Sydney and he thinks they could have a life there.
Disowned by her family, Sally decides she will commit a crime which will get her deported to Australia. It works and she rejoins him. Her desperate act doesn’t guarantee a new and happy life. James continues his criminal ways, and drinks and he is an increasingly violent man. They have two children, Clarissa and Alicia.
Clarissa is a smart, warm, nurturing girl who takes care of her father, sister and baby brother after their mother’s death in childbirth. All of her care goes to her little sister Alicia when the baby doesn’t make it. She gives Alicia everything, food, clothing, anything good that comes to them goes to awful, cold selfish Alicia. James only cares for Alicia, Clarissa has no value at all until it is revealed she inherited her mother’s unusual talent for mimicry.
James the petty thief is pleased with something Clarissa can contribute at last. She can assume accents. She’s a wonderful little actress and can keep a “mark” busy with a tale of woe while James picks their pocket. They learn ever more elaborate “cheats,” stories and traps for the unwary, becoming so successful they need to move to new places periodically where they aren’t known and start over with a new set of victims eventually returning to London in the hopes of greater fortune.
I had such a hard time with this entire section of the novel. Clarissa had the most unrelentingly awful childhood and things got no better for her as an adult. She deserved something, someone at some point, any point in her life to let her know she is just spectacular.
She meets a man, falls in love, is tricked into having an affair which leaves her with child. She’s broken off with her father at last. In London she stays in a hotel till she runs out of money and finds herself working for the crime syndicate her father had a falling out with years ago. She’s able to succeed at many cheats while pregnant and is assigned a young helper. Ever generous, she teaches him to read and hopes he can some day have a better life. Once her baby is born, she can do less, wandering the freezing streets in midwinter.
Enter Sherlock Holmes, a severe young man who seems to be searching for her father, while accusing Clarissa of being involved with blackmailing a friend of his. You might hope that Sherlock’s presence means good things for Clarissa. Instead there is murder and blackmail of another kind, with a harsh choice given Clarissa by Holmes himself. Which leads to Mary Russell opening the door to a murderer one day.
The Murder of Mary Russell is the fourteenth book in the series. These are wonderful, thoughtful mysteries featuring a young woman clever enough to have captured the heart of Sherlock Holmes. She has learned so many of his techniques and methods of deduction. Expert at disguise, she and Sherlock are the best possible match.
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