I jumped into this second book in the 'Mary Russell' series, hoping it would be as good or better than the first novel, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Beyond that, I really had no expectations.
The book started out a little slower than I might have liked for a sequel. However, the genre and the way the book is set up essentially required a certain amount of buildup in order to set the plot for the newest mystery in the series.
Thus, even though we already had a great deal of information about the relationship between Mary Russell and the famous Sherlock Holmes, it was vital that we learned more about Mary's studies, her "coming of majority" and receiving her inheritance, her interest in scripture/religion, and basically take the time to get to know her better.
It's been a bit since I read the first book, but it seemed like this novel focused a lot more on Mary's character and let her come into the limelight a bit more. In Beekeeper, she did hold her own with Holmes in many ways, but he was often an overpowering factor. In Monstrous Regiment, the general setting (a feminist organization), Holmes was forced to take the passenger seat (he most definitely wasn't relegated to the back seat).
Holmes was still very present with all of his precise observations and intense/eccentric behaviors. But Mary definitely came "of majority" both in terms of receiving her inheritance but also in terms of being a viable character and a force to be reckoned with.
The mystery of the book was developed very gradually. Mary has a school friend who is having some 'man trouble' and seeks Mary's advice. Before we go too far into thinking that he will be at the heart of the plot, Mary is quickly invited to attend a 'service' at this "Regiment of Women" where she becomes very intrigued by the woman who controls the organization. Her intrigue grows to a combination of admiration, curiosity and finally suspicion. A handful of coincidental deaths lead Mary to dig deeper and to use some of Holmes's influence to utilize police (and other - Mycroft) records to investigate the society.
The "man problems" subplot managed to stay in the periphery due to the man's drug addiction and I really liked the way King wove the drug addiction throughout the main plot as well. Her descriptions of the "high" and "low" points of addiction and recovery were very vivid and especially intriguing as Mary experienced some of that dark underworld.
The final unraveling of the mystery happened a bit too quickly for me after the slow buildup. Fortunately there was an intense period towards the end that helped bridge the gap. The 'revelation' phase did work out pretty well, though part of me still felt like there were a number of unfair additions (primarily who the real villain was) but there was enough previous buildup to make it work.
So overall, I really enjoyed this book. I had a lot of fun getting to know Russell a bit better and to learn more about her interactions with Holmes (there was on surprise referred to early on that then hangs over the entire book and partially resolves itself at the end…I'd heard rumors of this from my wife when she read the series, but the way Holmes presented this to Mary still shocked me). The Regiment of Women was very interesting both in terms of their makeup in the plot and the ideas and concepts presented. There were a lot of very interesting religious and educational discussions that were a lot of fun.
This book is definitely a sequel to its predecessor. If you wanted to read it as a standalone, you could certainly do that without missing out on too much. But the first book was good as well so I'd suggest that if you're interested at all. I'm looking forward to reading through the rest of the series and so far I can heartily recommend it.
4 out of 5 stars
View all my reviews