The latest adventure for the intrepid Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes takes readers into the frenetic world of silent films, where the pirates are real and the shooting isn’t all done with cameras. In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate the criminal activities that surround Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is travelling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. But as movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.
Laurie R. King takes a light-hearted break from the more recently dark adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, as Russell is gently persuaded to set sail for Lisbon under the guise of assistant to Fflytte Films – gentle persuasion in that if she does not, then she has to spend time with Mycroft Holmes who may just have other ideas with which to occupy her…
Paying humorous homage to Gilbert and Sullivan, King delivers an uplifting tale in which Russell finds herself helping to recruit a band of actors to play pirates, in a film about a film about the Pirates of Penzance. Lest there is any confusion, in true theatrical tradition, this extraordinary troupe of characters can be found in a ‘cast’ list as a preface to the story. I have to admit to referring to this quite frequently for the first third of the novel, as with several dozen names to remember, I struggled; however, as the story progresses, and certain characters come to the fore, this was required less and less.
Russell’s task is to discover why, after the filming of each Fflytte Films production, there is a surfeit of illicit materials in circulation, which have potentially been used as props in the films. However, being cast at sea with 13 blonde actresses, all to be daughters of the modern Major-General, and 13 ‘pirates’, she has little time to turn her attention to this investigation. Indeed, until Holmes’s reappearance in the story in the final quarter, we are treated more to the shenanigans on board ship, as the cast and crew set sail from Lisbon to Morocco. Are the hired band of ‘pirates’ really pirates? Do they perhaps have another motive for securing parts in the film?
Whilst Holmes’s absence until almost the denouement of this story is the only disappointment in an otherwise jolly roger of a tale, his participation upon return brings the interaction between him and Russell that is such a golden trademark of this series. New readers are advised to start elsewhere in the series (the first volume, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is now in its third printing in its current paperback format); existing readers will appreciate the added humour that Pirate King brings, and all of us can look forward to the 12th volume, thought to be taking Russell and Holmes deeper into Morocco. However, we have at least a year to wait before we find out!