Street Life of London

Parts of The Murder of Mary Russell take place in 1925, but much of it goes back to the mid-nineteenth century.


Isembard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian spirit.

The Victorian era was a time of brilliant light, spectacular technological development, and enormous social development.


For the wealthy.


Gustave Doré

For the rest, it was a time of rotting teeth, foul diseases, hunger, cold, and the workhouse.

Life expectancy was in the low 40s, one in five children died before their fifth birthday, and the Thames in London stank like the sewer it was.

Copyright Ben Cavanna

In 1876, the year young Clara Hudson was returning to London in The Murder of Mary Russell, photographer John Thompson set up his camera tripod and began to record the lives of common people in the capital city. He was joined by radical journalist Adolphe Smith, whose essays describe, in honest and even affectionate terms, the men and women in Thompson’s photographs. Here are the dustmen with their spavined horses, the public disinfectors, the Covent Garden labourers, baskets on head. Men carry advertising boards, men work on the decks of barges.

And the women in their many-layered clothing, their faces worn-down and older than their years, but their eyes gaze into Thompson’s big lens with dignity and strength.An-Old-Clothes-Shop-Seven-Dials

And the children? They look cold and wary even in the photographs of summer.Sufferers-from-the-Floods

You can read Street Life in London online, and there’s a video made from the photographs:

murder of mary russell UK


The Murder of Mary Russell can 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.

Women’s dress: 1879 & 1925

A key date in The Murder of Mary Russell is 1879, when Sherlock Holmes and his future landlady meet. The other date is, of course, 1925, when Mary Russell…well.

One thing that fascinated me is the difference in clothing between those two periods. Yes, Russell tends to wear her father’s old suits, but she couldn’t have got away with that in 1879.

One doesn’t think of the Victorian era as a time of rapid change, when it comes to women’s clothing, but in fact, even a relative neophyte to the history of fashion quickly begins to spot the differences.


John O’Connor

In the mid-1850s, multiple petticoats were replaced by crinolines, hooped skirts made of various materials but often steel. For a decade, huge and unwieldy skirts reigned supreme. Then in the 1870s, crinolines shrank into crinolettes, then bustles, until in 1879 the fashion was for the so-called “natural form” (hah!) of a long, rigidly corseted torso, a petticoat that emphasized the skirt backs, and a train.

During the 19th century, a woman wore 25 or more pounds of clothing—and that was before she put on her outer cloak. In 1863, at the height of the hoop skirt, 2500 people died in a church fire in Santiago, Chile, when crinolines blocked the way to escape. Throughout the century, women died when their skirts caught flame, or drowned when they slipped into the stream fetching water and their clothing pulled them under.

I was interested in the many and incredibly complex layers of clothing a Victorian woman wore (for an illustration of dressing, click here.)1879 garments (King)

The technology of the corset reminds me of a ship’s rigging, a series of balanced tensions and surfaces—and if I had to put one on every day, I’d probably throttle myself.

Why, even a woman’s drawers were engineered to meet the needs of a woman who couldn’t reach past her skirts, and couldn’t bend her torso.Drawers

Compare with this a woman’s dress in 1925, when The Murder of Mary Russell opens. Perhaps three or four pounds of clothing, half of which is on the feet.1925 garments (King)

I’ve made a handout for stores to give out at my events—you can print them out, and even use them as a two-page coloring book, if you like.  The Victorian page is here, the 1925 version here.


murder of mary russell UK

The Murder of Mary Russell may be 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.


Mr Holmes’ London

Out today: The Murder of Mary Russell, in which we meet a young Holmes, and also see a much older version of the Great Detective remembering those far-off days.  I hope you enjoy it.e-card 6 architecture

Key to The Murder of Mary Russell is the past of Sherlock Holmes, and especially the Victorian city through which he moved with such thorough and expert familiarity:

If London’s buildings and roads had changed since the days of his youth, even more so had the architecture of crime. Walking through London forty years ago, he could have named every dip, broadsman, and palmer who went by—along with the mobsman who ran him and the beak who’d last sent him down.

It looked like a cleaner city now. The Ripper killings, that bloody spasm that took place seven years after he’d moved into Baker Street, would be difficult today under London’s electric glare—though by no means impossible. And the average citizen was less likely to climb off an omnibus with empty pockets or wake up in an alley with a bloodied head—but it still happened. The dirt remained; it had just got pushed into the corners.

In case you’re visiting London in 1879embankment low res

and you want to just linger in the vicinity of places where Sherlock Holmes or Mrs Hudson might pass, Mr Charles Dickens Jr has some suggestions for you—and a caveat.


The early morning begins with an exercise ride in Rotten-row. In the afternoon, grand parade in the same place, with splendid show of carriages in the Drive. It is here that a stranger will get his best view of the London “world.”



If all you care about is not to be stared at, you may now walk about most parts of London in any ordinary English costume. If, however, you wish to go into the park during parade hours in the season, to the “Zoo” on Sunday afternoons, the Horticultural Gardens, or any other fashionable resort, gloves, chimney-pot hat, orthodox morning coat, &c., are still essential.


From the excellent site Victorian London:


Evening dress is not de rigueur in any part of any of the theatres, though on the whole it predominates in the stalls. Don’t wear a scarlet opera-cloak, however, if you can help it. It is commonly regarded by the initiated as strong evidence that its owner has come in with an “order.” Ladies frequent the stalls as much as any other part. At the Italian operas evening dress is indispensable in every part except gallery. This rule is rigorously enforced to the smallest detail, and it is hopeless to think of evading it.

(Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1879, An Unconventional Handbook, by Charles Dickens [Jr.], here.)

 22-199x300murder of mary russell UK









The Murder of Mary Russell can 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.

Becoming Mrs Hudson

The Mrs Hudson we know and love, first in Conan Doyle’s Baker Street and later in Russell’s life, may not be quite the same young woman we meet in The Murder of Mary Russell. (One week from today!)  Don’t worry, I don’t intend to say anything about the process of transformation, because that would be […spoiler…], but we know how it turned out: a grey-haired lady bringing trays of tea and scones.Mrs Hudson's cookbook

Lots of us grey-haired ladies start off as other than we are, and meet some interesting people along the way.laureie_signing_sherlock

But in case you’re worried that a nice young lady like Miss Hudson isn’t exactly qualified to be a housekeeper, you have to remember that this is an age of self-help,Mrs B inside cover

that kitchens are filled with labor-saving devicesMrs B Labour-saving

and Mrs Beeton has books to consult for those puzzled about those large machines in the kitchen.Mrs B gas cookers

So if you’re worried about Mrs Hudson, don’t be.  I’m sure she’ll have a lot of help from her two tenants.  I know I did.laurie_watson_holmes



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.

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.

221 Baker Street

In The Murder of Mary Russell, we learn just how Sherlock Holmes came to inhabit the iconic Baker Street house where he and Dr Watson settled in before the fire with pipes and gasogene,Unknownnewspapers and experiments, waiting for the knock from below that signaled a client. As Watson writes in A Study in Scarlet:

We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows.

Leaving aside the small problem (despite the blue plaque) that until the 1930s, the numbers on Baker St only went up to 85, and that Watson occasionally seems to forget the precise layout of the rooms (see, for example, these alternate drawings.)

Mrs Hudson’s first sight of the house, on the other hand, as given in The Murder of Mary Russell, is less than enthusiastic:

Inside lay cracked floor tiles, dusty cobwebs, and buckling wallpaper that had known the touch of many greasy hands. A half-windowed door missing its glass was tucked behind the stairs, a tarnished brass A dangling from a surviving screw. Mr Holmes stepped forward to twist the knob of apartment A, pressing his back against the wall as invitation. She gathered her skirts and pushed around him, but rather than follow, he turned and trotted up the stairs. She watched his polished boots disappear, then turned her jaundiced eye to the rooms that composed 221A Baker Street. Every inch of it wanted carbolic, plaster, paint, and fresh paper. Any attempt to kindle heat would burn the place down. However, once the surface decay had been banished and the flues entirely rebuilt, she imagined the kitchen, pantry, and small adjoining apartment would be comfortable enough.

A remarkable thing about Victorian houses (having owned one myself, in Oxford) is their size: considering the number of children common to 19th century families, they’re tiny, and even a “large, airy sitting-room” would have most of its space taken up if occupied by several woman in wide skirts.  To say nothing of the impossibility of passing on the stairs:


22-199x300  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 Heffer’s/Blackwell’s 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

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.

A Marriage for Mary

A new short story is born!marriage of mary russell_sm

Yes, yes, a short story isn’t a novel, but it’s a bright and amusing bit of new life that wasn’t here last month, and now is, so: yay, me!  (Although “here” is a relative term. It’s here for me. You’ll have to wait until March. Sorry.)

Here’s how Random House describe it:

Laurie R. King takes readers way back in her bestselling series with this exclusive ebook short story, as Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes embark upon the riskiest adventure of their partnership: their wedding.

Though she cannot entirely discount the effects of the head injuries they were both suffering at the time, Mary Russell is delighted by Sherlock Holmes’s 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 through a 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 manse. There’s just the small issue of ownership: the manse is not exactly his, and he is most definitely not welcome there. Of course, such obstacles have never deterred Sherlock Holmes before, and they certainly won’t keep him from concocting an elaborate scheme to evade angry dogs and armed butlers—all in the name of wedded bliss.

More about writing it next week, and eventually some pre-order information, and all that.  At the moment, I’m madly trying busy with the copyedit, trying to send it back before the weekend…

A puzzling magazine

Mystery Scene is a favorite of the crime community, edited by longtime friend Kate Stine.142cover465

They often run crossword puzzles, and this month’s, by Verna Suit, is “Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity” so I thought, hey, let’s see how many holes I have in my knowledge. Can you see which one I got wrong?


5 Down–”The Reigate __” by 49D [Arthur Conan Doyle]–has the same number of spaces as the other possible answer, “SQUIRE” but in fact it’s the story’s alternative title, “PUZZLE.” I had to look up “Alaska’s first governor” (10 Across) and guessed at another couple, and I admit that 32 Across baffled me until I thought about it long and hard. (“Prefer and differ endings” means…ENCES. Can one groan pun-like for crossword clues?)

But number 63 Across? That one I got right away.clues