A Young Mr Holmes

Two weeks from today, the newest (and…last?) Russell memoir comes out.  Since The Murder of Mary Russell reaches back into the Victorian era for portions of its tale, at a point we’re going to encounter a fairly young Sherlock Holmes.

No, I’m not talking Spielberg, hereYoung Sherlock

but rather, the apparent undergraduate Dr Watson encounters in the Bart’s Hospital laboratories, in the first Conan Doyle Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.

There was only one student in the room, who was bending over a distant table absorbed in his work. At the sound of our steps he glanced round and sprang to his feet with a cry of pleasure. “I’ve found it! I’ve found it,” he shouted to my companion, running towards us with a test-tube in his hand. “I have found a re-agent which is precipitated by haemoglobin, and by nothing else.” Had he discovered a gold mine, greater delight could not have shone upon his features.












Unfortunately, Conan Doyle never gets around to revealing this young man’s actual age. Sir Arthur might have been writing deliberately to frustrate future generations of Holmes biographers with his contradictory habits regarding internal dates, the number of wives possessed by poor Dr Watson, the color of Holmes’ dressing gown, and indeed, all matters Sherlockian.

Christopher Morley, a founder of the men’s drinking society known as the Baker Street Irregulars, claimed a birth year of 1854, which was enthusiastically embraced (and just as enthusiastically repudiated) by fellow imbibers. The date has stuck, despite a number if internal problems, largely because in “His Last Bow” (set in 1914) Holmes is described as a man of 60—even though Holmes is in disguise at the time, acting the part of a traitorous Irish-American mechanic named Altamont.

I, however, in my Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes chronology, set matters straight: Holmes was born in the year 1861. I base my analysis on the Conan Doyle story that lies at the heart of The Murder of Mary Russell (and which is being discussed this month on the Book Club)—“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott.” (Feel free to skip down to the end of the boxed quote, if you want to take my word for it.)

This is a tale narrated to Watson by Holmes himself, concerning his first real case. It opens during Holmes’ university career (the year is not given), when he goes to visit the house of one of his few friends, Victor Trevor, and meets the young man’s father. There he shocks the older man into a dead faint with a demonstration of his skills in observation and logical deduction. Some weeks later, at the end of the long vacation, Holmes is called again to the Trevor house, to find that the father is dying.

The man’s history comes out as follows. Born James Armitage, Trevor was convicted of making use of funds that were not his and transported to Australia on the barque Gloria Scott—“leaving Falmouth on the 8th October 1855”—only to have the ship taken over by his fellow convicts and sunk. Armitage participates unwillingly, is put off the boat carrying the mutineers, and eventually finds rescue and is taken to Australia, a free man.

In Australia, it is said, “we prospered, we travelled, [and] we came back as rich Colonials to England,” after which “for more than twenty years we have led peaceful and useful lives.” Until, that is, one of the murderous prisoners tracks down Trevor/Armitage, and addresses him, saying “it is thirty years and more since I saw you last.” The man, whose name interestingly enough is Hudson, blackmails the elder Trevor into an early death, at which point both younger men learn the story.

If we take all the story’s internal dates at face value, we must add “thirty years or more” to the date of the Gloria Scott’s wreckage in November of 1855, which would mean that Holmes was finishing his university career in 1885—clearly problematic when one takes into account the Study in Scarlet meeting date of 1881. If, however, one excuses Hudson’s “thirty years” as the inexactitude one may expect from a hardened criminal, and takes Trevor’s twenty years as closer to the facts, adding a brisk five to make a success of the gold fields in Australia and return home rich, then we are looking at 1880 as the second year of university for our detective, much closer to the facts of Watson’s introductory tale.

So there you have it: a firm date for the birth of the Sherlock Holmes universe.

Unless, of course, you’re speaking with someone other than Laurie King.


murder of mary russell UK

The Murder of Mary Russell, which publishes April 5, may be pre-ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Waterstones or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.

“Marriage” and–which “artist Vernet”?

“The Marriage of Mary Russell” publishes today–yay!marriage of mary russell_sm

In “The Greek Interpreter,” Watson is startled when his flat-mate Sherlock Holmes pulls an unsuspected brother out of his conversational pocket:

It was after tea on a summer evening, and the conversation, which had roamed in a desultory, spasmodic fashion from golf clubs to the causes of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic, came round at last to the question of atavism and hereditary aptitudes. The point under discussion was, how far any singular gift in an individual was due to his ancestry and how far to his own early training.

“In your own case,” said I, “from all that you have told me, it seems obvious that your faculty of observation and your peculiar facility for deduction are due to your own systematic training.”

“To some extent,” he answered, thoughtfully. “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”

“But how do you know that it is hereditary?”

“Because my brother Mycroft possesses it in a larger degree than I do.”Mycroft Holmes

Later, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Mary Russell encounters further evidence of this family history:

The small box Holmes put before me contained a simple, delicate brooch made of silver set with tiny pearls.

“Holmes, it’s beautiful”

“It belonged to my grandmother. Can you open it?”

…Inside was a miniature portrait of a young woman with light hair but a clear gaze I recognized immediately as that of Holmes.

“Her bother, the French artist Vernet, painted it on her eighteenth birthday,” said Holmes. “Her hair was a colour very similar to yours, even when she was old.”

1961.013-248x300The necklace, and the grandmother, are glimpsed again in “The Marriage of Mary Russell.”

Beside the door, gazing across the intervening pews at the altar, was the portrait of a woman: thin, grey-eyed, with a nose too aquiline for conventional beauty. Her force of personality dominated the silent room.

However, one question Conan Doyle himself failed to answer was, “Which artist Vernet?” There are three options, consisting of grandfather, father, and son:

Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) Married an English woman.

Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet 1758-1836.

Horace (Émile Jean-Horace) Vernet (1789-1863).

All were French painters, all did portraits, all had children, so the dates will have to decide matters. According to the Laurie R. King chronology, Sherlock Holmes was born in 1861. (Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes—other Sherlockians date his birth to 1851, but Conan Doyle never delivered judgment.) His mother would have been born in the vicinity of 1830-1840, and his grandmother some time between 1800 and 1820.

Although the Vernets seem to have remained vigorous into their seventies (Sherlock clearly inherited longevity along with the art in his blood, since we have yet to read his Times of London obituary: this can only mean he is still with us.) it would be unusual to continue producing children into their (and their wives’) later years. This would push the probability towards the youngest of the three artists Vernet, Horace.self-portrait-with-pipe-1835(1).jpg!Blog

A close examination of his self-portrait, comparing it with a description of the grandson, all but clinches the hypothesis. Could that portrait be anyone but Sherlock Holmes, in deep disguise?


The e-story “The Marriage of Mary Russell” is out today, from Kindle or Nook.marriage of mary russell_sm

THE GAME for all (US) players

In the spirit of random celebration, let’s raise our glasses (or, screens?) to The Game.

Why not? WE may all be looking forward to “Marriage” and Murder (in that order) but honestly, isn’t The Game one of your all-time favorite Mary Russells? It’s one of mine. So Team LRK (ie, me and my blood relations) have made a new video—with me reading from the opening chapter, illustrated by images of Twenties India.th-1

It’s on the LRK YouTube channel, right here.

And to join in the spirit, Random House are running a two-week special offer on the e-book, marking it down to $1.99. Whee!

Tell your friends, show Grandma how to load it onto her smart phone, post about it on your site— that for two bucks, everyone in the Random House world (aka the US) can tuck a copy into their reader. For Kindle and Nook and probably others as well that I don’t have the links for.

Enjoy the video, even if you’re not in the US, and the book, if you are.

Sherlock Holmes: his people

In “The Marriage of Mary Russell,” as the cover copy tells us:

Mary Russell is delighted by Sherlock Holmes’ proposal of marriage.  After all, they have become partners-in-crime, and she has recently come into her inheritance: what remains but to confirm the union with her mentor-turned-partner with the piece of paper? Russell’s pragmatic side tells her to head straight to the registry office—until Holmes surprises her with a sentimental wish to be married in the chapel of his ancestral manor.

marriage of mary russell_sm

Knight, squire, yeoman, and knave: four levels of Britain’s fighting caste.

By the time we climbed a spiral stairway—the ancient clockwise sort designed to free a swordsman’s arm against invaders—I would not have sworn that we weren’t on the outskirts of Oxford, if not London.

cropped stairs

stairs 2

According to Arthur Conan Doyle (in “Greek Interpreter”) Holmes tells Watson, “My ancestors were country squires.” A squire, in the Middle Ages, was a knight’s right hand man—bearing his shield, helping suit him in his armor, feeding his horses and ransoming him when he was taken in battle. In the process, the squire took on the skills for his own training, although the apprentice position later solidified into a status of its own, with the squire an inherited rank of gentleman a notch below actual the actual peerage.

Dukes would come and go, earls were made and moved up the hierarchy, but the squire remained a figure of solidity and authority in his area, one generation after another inhabiting the manor, overseeing the tenant farmers, settling disputes, and coming between the whims of the peers and the needs of the working classes. Their homes tended to be solid, though not grand:

As we stood pressed among the rhododendrons that flanked the entrance drive, my mind trying (and failing) to see any signs of Holmes in this most conventional of English façades, a sudden play of head-lamps came from the lane behind us. We ducked down, watching a lorry pass by. To my surprise, it came to a halt at the front entrance. A man in formal dress came out of the door, followed by a footman and maid who, under the other man’s direction, helped the lorry’s driver unload a number of anonymous crates.

And thus the mystery begins…



The e-story “The Marriage of Mary Russell” comes out March 15. You can pre-order it from Kindle or Nook.

The Tiger of Beachy Head

Quite a bit of “The Marriage of Mary Russell”—

—takes place on the South Downs, particularly that portion of it to which Sherlock Holmes retired after the death of Queen Victoria, a few miles from where Mary Russell stumbles across him in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.map_scan_eastborne

Holmes’ earlier biographer, Arthur Conan Doyle, had little interest in precision when it came to the details of his characters’ lives. In “His Last Bow” (published in 1917), Holmes presents a German spy with what looks to be a code-book but turns out to be a treatise on beekeeping. Watson says to him:

“But you have retired, Holmes. We heard of you as living the life of a hermit among your bees and your books in a small farm upon the South Downs.”

“Exactly, Watson. Here is the fruit of my leisured ease, the magnum opus of my latter years!” He picked up the volume from the table and read out the whole title, Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. “Alone I did it. Behold the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days when I watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London.”

Later, in “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” (published in 1926, concerning events of 1907) Doyle has Holmes musing:

It occurred after my withdrawal to my little Sussex home, when I had given myself up entirely to that soothing life of Nature for which I had so often yearned during the long years spent amid the gloom of London. At this period of my life the good Watson had passed almost beyond my ken. An occasional week-end visit was the most that I ever saw of him. Thus I must act as my own chronicler. Ah! Had he but been with me, how much he might have made of so wonderful a happening and of my eventual triumph against every difficulty! As it is, however, I must needs tell my tale in my own plain way, showing by my words each step upon the difficult road which lay before me as I searched for the mystery of the Lion’s Mane.

My villa is situated upon the southern slope of the downs, commanding a great view of the Channel. At this point the coast-line is entirely of chalk cliffs, which can only be descended by a single, long, tortuous path, which is steep and slippery. At the bottom of the path lie a hundred yards of pebbles and shingle, even when the tide is at full.

Here and there, however, there are curves and hollows which make splendid swimming pools filled afresh with each flow. This admirable beach extends for some miles in each direction, save only at one point where the little cove and village of Fulworth break the line.

My house is lonely. I, my old housekeeper, and my bees have the estate all to ourselves.

Elsewhere (The Mary Russell Companion) I look at precisely those details spurned by Sir Arthur—Where exactly is that “villa”? How are its rooms laid out?—but in “The Marriage of Mary Russell,” Russell gets no further than the kitchen. Instead, she spends her time wandering the Downs, at one point being given a tour by the owners of the old Belle Tout lighthouse, which has a fascinating history.

Sir James & Lady Purvis Stewart, 1938 (Wikipedia)

Sir James & Lady Purvis Stewart, 1938 (Wikipedia)

(Turns out it’s not a great idea to stick your lighthouse on top of a cliff when there’s fog coming out of the sea. And it also turns out that you can move a lighthouse, if you’re determined, and willing to spend a whole lot of money.) It’s a B&B, too!

They also spend some time in the Tiger Inn in the tiny village of East Dean.

Naturally, having decided not to seek after Holmes, the Tiger was where I found him, stockinged heels propped up before the crackling logs, beer in one hand and pipe in the other.

This is a marvelous pub with a vast lawn of green at the front,DSC00570

perfect for reclining on with a pint on a summer’s day, feet up before the fire,IMG_1018

after a long walk over the Downs.DSC00593

The Tiger also lets rooms, as well as self-catering apartments, which I highly recommend.

Whether or not you come across Russell and Holmes in the snug depends on your luck—the locals are adept at letting their famous neighbours slip out the back, when tourists descend.


The e-story “The Marriage of Mary Russell” comes out March 15. You can pre-order it for Kindle or Nook.

Marriage before Murder

“The Marriage of Mary Russell” started, as many of my more interesting projects seem to, with a conversation with my editor. Was there by any chance, she asked, a short story I’d like to write? One that Random House could use as an e-short, during the build-up to The Murder of Mary Russell, to tease new readers into Russell’s world?

Now, I find short stories a whole lot of work. They don’t take as long as a novel, obviously, but the creation of a world takes energy, whether that world lasts for 50 pages or 450. So if it had just been a matter of providing my publisher with sales fodder, the answer would have been thanks, but no.

However. A short story is also a way to tell small tales, or to explore gaps left by novels, or simply to play with ideas. A story about a particular time in the life of my protagonists interested me. So I said yes.

marriage of mary russell_sm

This business of attracting new readers becomes a growing problem, the longer a series goes. I mean, I love all you guys. Your enthusiasm boosts my spirits on even the bleakest days, and you’re really good about telling your friends HEY THIS IS A GREAT BOOK YOU HAVE TO READ IT RIGHT NOW! However, word of mouth is only one of the ways books get around, and publishing only works if a person keeps growing her readership. So I told my editor I’d be happy to write them a new story to dangle in front of peoples’ noses and infect them with the Russell contagion—er, bring them into Russell’s world, because I knew this story would make you guys happy as well.

During the fall, as I was working on the novel, I was aware of this story simmering away in the back of my head. Unlike some stories, where I can go wherever I want to, this one had certain things it needed to do:

  1. Because The Murder of Mary Russell has a lot about Mrs Hudson in it, I wanted this short story to involve her as well—with a gentle hint of the lady’s unexpected depths.
  2. Because this series forms Russell’s memoirs (until she, um, dies) the story had to capture her voice: wit, snark, dry humo(u)r, ornate vocabulary, and a suspicion of double entendre in some of her most matter-of-fact statements (“Did she just say…?”)
  3. Because more people know Sherlock Holmes than know Mary Russell (I know, hard to believe, right?) the Holmes in this story needed to be spot-on, despite the completely foreign idea of that gentleman and…marriage.
  4. Humor. And humour. Because why read Laurie King if she doesn’t make you snort, or at least chuckle?
  5. For devoted fans of Russell & Holmes, stories like this offer me a chance to fill in a few of the gaps left by novels. And really, who doesn’t want to know about the wedding?
  6. Finally, it’s about a marriage. So although there’s no more overt [(S*X)] here than any of the other memoirs, the reader needs to be aware—needs to see Russell being aware—that marriage, even to a thinking machine, just might have a physical side to it.

I say no more.

Other than: with all these requirements, I am happy with the story. In fact, my feeling is: Nailed it!

At first it’ll only be an e-book, although later in the year it might appear in print.

Release date is March 15. You can pre-order it now, so it pops into your e-reader that morning, for Kindle and Nook (the other formats will come.)

And maybe you’ll even tell your friends they HAVE TO READ IT, too….

Vanishing shorts

Two weeks from today, on Feb 1, a number of my e-short stories will be coming down, vanishing, going underground (except, of course, if they’re already on your reader.) king_beeke_9780345529930_h-203x300These stories won’t be for sale again until Random House publishes my collection of Russell & Holmes tales in October (as an ebook, though possibly, eventually, as a print book as well. We don’t have a contract for that yet.)

The e-stories going out of, er, print (?) on February 1 are:

Russell’s War

Mary’s Christmas

Mrs Hudson’s Case (Kindle, Nook, and other)

Beekeeping for Beginners

Cover-5-201x300My other self-published shorts won’t change: Mila’s Tale, The Mary Russell Companion, Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes, My Thesis Being…, and Hellbender will all remain for sale as ebooks (and, in the case of the Sherlock Holmes essays, in print.)

Got it?  Good.

Russell’s War

Last year on the centenary of the Great War’s beginnings,Chronicle_Polaris_front_page_full_webI began posting young Mary Russell’s War Journal. Her weekly reflections about the War, her drive to do something more than just be a fourteen year-old girl,Kitchener-leete-poster_1half copy

(her mother is raising money for the British air force)pilot_dropping_bomb_from_plane_2thirds copy

and her suspicions about German spies weave in and out of her family history, the Russells’ building War troubles, and the personal trauma that ultimately drives her to Sussex, and to her momentous meeting with Sherlock Holmes.

The 101st anniversary of the Great War’s beginnings is next Tuesday. To mark it, I’m putting a revised version of Mary Russell’s Journal, with a lot of contemporary illustrations, up for sale as an ebook.Mary Russell's War cover4

The blog posts remain up on this blog, under the tag “Mary Russell’s War,” but if you enjoyed reading young Mary’s journal, and you’d like an updated and cleaned up version (with pictures!) it’s be available on Kindle for pre-sale now, here, and will be on the other formats here.

I hope you enjoy it!

Mary’s Christmas, in time for Christmas


So, I fought my way through storm and flood and fallen branches (yeah, it is indeed raining here in drought-land, and raining hard—really hard) risking life and limb and wet shoes JUST FOR YOU, making my way to Bookshop Santa Cruz (and back) where I signed a stack of the now-in-print short story,  “Mary’s Christmas”

photo copy

that they just got in from the printers. If you haven’t already, you can order one of these signed babies (they really are cute) from Bookshop, here, or from Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale (where they should arrive next week) here.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of a very young Miss Russell, her varied skills, and a previously unknown (to us) character in her life, Uncle Jake.

(And yes, there are print copies of that other cover, Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes for sale as well: here.)

(Hey! I managed to get this posted before the power went ou

LRK, Sherlockian?

When I first started writing the Russell books, I took great care to assert that these were not Sherlock Holmes stories, that they were about Mary Russell, with Holmes a supporting actor. Which they are, clearly.

The original proposed cover for Beekeeper's Apprentice.

The original proposed (and rejected) cover for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.


As I’ve mellowed, I have become more interested in the character of Holmes, curious about how this man with the brilliant mind and cold heart would be changed by his apprentice-turned-partner. I went so far as to write an actual Holmes pastiche, inserting it into the midst of a Martinelli novel (The Art of Detection.) And over the years, I’ve written a number of academic essays on The Gent With the Pipe, including “Watson’s War Wound,” “A Holmes Chronology,” and an introduction to The Hound of the Baskervilles (collected in Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes—not to be mistaken for anyone else’s Holmes.)

Still, it’s always a bit of a thrill to be taken (or, mistaken?) for a Holmes expert. Two such thrills came up recently. First, I shall speak to the assembled masses, or however many of them manage to crawl from their beds for a Sunday morning panel, at Bay Area Sherlock:


No, I don’t think Benedict Cumberbatch is coming, although there will be cosplay lookalikes.


And two, “I” am being taught in the course on Sherlock Holmes at Politics and Prose in DC this fall, when Beekeeper’s Apprentice joins Michael Chabon’s Final Solution and Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk in what promises to be a fascinating discussion of, Interpretations of Sherlock Holmes II, beginning September 8.holmes

If anyone joins in at either of these, do let me know how it went!