Justice Hall (2002) by Laurie R. King

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.

Overall Thoughts

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.

Rating: 3/5

Calendar of Crime: January (7) Book title with a letter starting with J

14 comments

  1. 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.

    Well, that’s modern commercial crime fiction for you – but don’t worry, I’ll not do another rant on the subject. 🙂
    Laurie R. King was a promising writer back in the 90s, she even won an Edgar for her first book, A Grave Talent and secured a Best Novel nomination for her third, With Child. Both featured a SFPD detective, Kate Martinelli, who also happened to be a lesbian at a time when such a move was still risky. She then struck gold with the Mary Russell series and the rest is history. I never read any of the Mary Russell books as I found the concept ludicrous (but then so is the case with most holmesian pastiches and continuations) but I *loved* the Martinelli ones and I strongly suggest you give them a look, if only to see how our reactions compare as I was roughly the same age as you are when I read them. 🙂

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    • I wasn’t aware of her other series so thanks for the heads up.
      Yes the idea of Holmes being in a relationship did boggle me too, yet in this book it very much seems a relationship in name only, which is almost fitting and odd simultaneously.

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  2. Thanks for the review, as I’ve had my eye on this series – but haven’t gotten round to securing a copy from my local library. I confess what has held me back thus far is the page count. Most modern mystery novels hit 400-500 pages for a puzzle thinner than your typical GA mystery novel half the page count. ☹️ I think with age I want my novels to wrap up sooner rather than later. Of course, with a whopping sting in the tale and great characterisation amidst succinct brevity. 🤓✨

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    • I think GAD authors have spoilt us in that they show how much you can pack into 220 pages. I am not against longer, as Akunin’s The Diamond Chariot of 500+ pages is a favourite, but I think if you are going for a longer novel, there’s got to be a good reason for it.

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  3. What a pity you didn’t read the first novel, or at least the one prior to this to have the background of these characters. I have read the series well past this book, and liked them all, with this one near the top. I am a Holmes fan, and Sherlockian, and appreciate a good Sherlock novel if done well, and as the relationship between Holmes and Russell built, I accepted it, and have enjoyed it. Sorry your first, mid series, impression left such a sour taste in your mouth.

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  4. I’ve read a lot of Laurie King – I even went and heard her speak once – and agree that the Martinelli series was very good. The Mary Russell series started out really well, but then they just became way way too long, with unnecessary subsections, and literally hundreds of pages that could be removed. I would try the first one – I thought it was excellent.

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  5. I’ve read only King’s THE ART OF DETECTION which is a Holmesian novel but about Holmes collectors and fandom rather than the character himself. That novel features an older, more mature Martinelli and a locked room murder. But the novel is also a fictionalized account of the bizarre suicide-disguised-as-murder of famous Holmes collector Richard Lancelyn Green whose death was well publicized. Most mystery addicts knew all about that extremely strange event so there was nothing really surprising about the book at all for me.

    I attempted to read two of the Russell/Homes books (THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE which everyone seems to love and also LOCKED ROOMS) but neither grabbed hold of me at all. They seem to be popular with women readers who prefer the reinvented romantic idea of Holmes rather than the loner Holmes of the cool intellect that Doyle created. Yvette Banek (who used to blog at “in so many words…”) tried to win me over to the books, but they never worked for me.

    The one fairly recent Holmes pastiche I truly enjoyed was A SLICK TRICK OF THE MIND (later filmed as Mr. Holmes). That book deals with Alzheimer’s and a surrogate parental bond between the aging Holmes and a boy which are topics in fiction that both have deep personal meaning for me. So I guess I’m biased in my appraisal.

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    • I had vaguely heard of the RLG death so wasn’t aware of the details you mention, but at least that’s one less book to add to my TBR pile.
      I agree with you on the idea of the romantic Holmes – the notion never sat comfortably. Hopefully the same won’t happen to Poirot!
      I equally enjoyed Mr Holmes, though I’ve not read the book.

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