It is safe to say given the publication date of this 6th novel, that I am somewhat late to the party when it comes to the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. I have been aware of it for a while, but never quite got as far as reading any of them. That is until today of course, having been given a copy of this book as a gift a few months ago.
Justice Hall, is set in the early 1920s and is narrated by Mary herself. The tale begins with Russell and Holmes returning home after a case, but it is not long until a fresh one arrives. However the new client demanding help is a blast from the past, from a previous case. They met Ali Hazar in Palestine, when he was working for British intelligence as orchestrated by Mycroft, yet Ali has undergone much change since then, donning his old name, Alistair Hughenfort and persona. It seems he is not the only one as his cousin, known as “Mahmoud” whilst under deep cover, has now transformed back into William Maurice Hughenfort, returning to England to take up his deceased brother’s title and ancestral home. It is not a return he is happy about, but he feels he cannot do anything else. Alistair is not so convinced and urges Russell and Holmes to go with him to Justice Hall, to knock some sense into him. However, what seems like a personal favour, soon turns into a multi-pronged cold case, with a WW1 flavour, which ultimately has potential recuperations for the present. Inheritance and succession are key elements to the plot, as there are many relatives keen to look after their own interests.
Starting mid series I did feel like I had gone in at the deep end and I struggled through the opening to place the characters and pick up the key details. In some ways a 6th novel can’t really provide the new-to-the-series reader salient points, such as to how on earth Holmes married someone so young. Yet neither does it really shed much light into the relationship dynamic between Holmes and Russell, which seemed so impersonal and platonic. The way Ali and Mahmoud connect back to an earlier novel in the series also delayed me getting my bearings and it took me about 1/3 of the novel to warm to the central protagonists and get more involved in their activities. Oh well at least Mrs Hudson doesn’t seem to have changed…
These initial problems are in the main primarily due to my decision to jump into the middle of the series. Readers who commence from the beginning will undoubtedly not suffer them. However, I did have some issues with the book which are not sequence dependent, pertaining to the mystery plot instead. On the whole I am not sure I am convinced by the multi-pronged approach to the issue of succession in this book. In many respects the number of relatives and imposters coming out of the wood work seemed excessive and some of the “surprises” felt like they had been included for the sake of it.
I’ve often felt that Holmes never seems at home in a novel length mystery. Doyle always fared better with him in the short stories and this is something I found myself thinking from time to time in this story too. Holmes spends a fair bit of time off the page and he doesn’t get much time to indulge in his maverick moments of genius and object based deductions or inferences. The plot equally seemed to be strained, to work in such a way that Russell and Holmes both get to play the sleuth and not be each other’s’ sidekick.
However, what I felt plunged my rating further for this novel was that it padded out a mystery plot which should really have featured in a 200 paged novel and not a 400+ one. In such a long book it made a case which was solid enough, feel slight. It equally emphasised the case’s lack of tension and suspense, which might have been overlooked more easily if the pace had been increased. Inclusion of long diary excerpts is one such way the story was made to drag and many of these excerpts felt superfluous to requirement, the reader having been given the key points before hand.
Oh well perhaps not the strongest of reads, but I would be interested in hearing from people who have read this book or others in the collection, to get a wider picture of the plot events, characters and general trajectory of the series.
Calendar of Crime: January (7) Book title with a letter starting with J