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  • Written by Laurie R. King
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A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

Written by Laurie R. KingAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Laurie R. King

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: June 21, 2005
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-553-90159-7
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

En route to San Francisco to settle her family’s estate, Mary Russell, in the company of husband Sherlock Holmes, falls prey to troubling dreams—and even more troubling behavior. In 1906, when Mary was six, the city was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake. For years Mary has insisted she lived elsewhere at the time. But Holmes knows better.

Soon it is clear that whatever unpleasantness Mary wanted to forget hasn’t forgotten her. A series of mysterious deaths leads Russell and Holmes from the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent’s marriage and the tragic “accident” that Mary alone survived. What Russell discovers is that even a forgotten past never dies . . . and it can kill again.

Excerpt

Chapter One


Japan had been freezing, the wind that sliced through its famous cherry trees scattering flakes of ice in place of spring blossoms. We had set down there for nearly three weeks, after a peremptory telegram from its emperor had reached us in Hong Kong; people kept insisting that the countryside would be lovely in May.

The greatest benefit of those three weeks had been the cessation of the dreams that had plagued me on the voyage from Bombay. I slept well--warily at first, then with the slow relaxation of defences. Whatever their cause, the dreams had gone.

But twelve hours after raising anchor in Tokyo, I was jerked from a deep sleep by flying objects in my mind.

Three days out from the island nation, the rain stopped and a weak sun broke intermittently through the grey. The cold meant that most of the passengers, after venturing out for a brief turn on the decks, settled in along the windows on the ship's exposed side like so many somnolent cats. I, however, begged a travelling-rug from the purser and found a deck-chair out of the wind. There, wrapped to my chin with a hat tugged down over my close-cropped hair, I dozed.

Halfway through the afternoon, Holmes appeared with a cup of hot coffee. Actually, it was little more than tepid and half the liquid resided in the saucer; nonetheless, I sat up and disentangled one arm to receive it, then freed the other arm so that I could pour the saucer's contents back into the cup. Holmes perched on a nearby chair, taking out his pipe and tobacco pouch.

"The Captain tells me that we are making good time," he commented.

"I'm glad the storm blew itself out," I replied. "I might actually be able to face the dinner table tonight." Something about the angle of the wind the past days had made the perpetual pitch and toss of the boat even more quease-inducing than usual.

"You haven't eaten anything in three days." Holmes disapproved of my weak stomach.

"Rice," I objected. "And tea."

"Or slept," he added, snapping his wind-proof lighter into life and holding it over the bowl of his pipe.

That accusation I did not answer. After a moment, as if to acknowledge that his comment had not required a response, he went on.

"Had you thought any more about pausing in Hawaii?"

I stifled a yawn and put my empty cup onto the chair's wide arm, nestling back into the warmth of the rug. "It's up to you, Holmes. I'm happy to stop there if you like. How many days would it be before the next ship?"

"Normally three, but it seems that the following ship has turned back to Tokyo for repairs, which means we could be marooned there for a week."

I opened one eye, unable to tell from his voice, still less his smoke-girt expression, which way his desires leant. "A week is quite a long diversion," I ventured.

"Particularly if Hawaii has embraced the austerities of Prohibition."

"A half-day would mean a long walk and sit at a table where I don't have to aim a moving soup spoon at my mouth. Both would be quite nice."

"Then another four days to San Francisco." The pointless, unnecessary observation was unlike Holmes. Indeed, this entire conversation was unlike him, I reflected, squinting at him against the glare. He had his pipe between his teeth, and was concentrating on rolling up the pouch, so I shut my eyes again.

"Terra firma," I said. "A week in California, tying up business, and then we can turn for home. By train." I don't get seasick on trains.

"A week will be sufficient, you believe?"

"To draw up the papers for selling the house and business? More than enough."

"And that is what you have decided to do."

This noncommittal, pseudo-Socratic dialogue was beginning to annoy. "What are you getting at, Holmes?"

"Your dreams."

"What about them?" I snapped. I should never have told him about them, although it would have been difficult not to, considering the closeness of the quarters.

"I should say they indicate a certain degree of anxiety."

"Oh for heaven's sake, Holmes, you sound like Freud. The man had sex on the brain. 'Rooms in dreams are generally women,' he declares. 'A dream of going through a series of rooms indicates a brothel, or a marriage'--I can't imagine what his own marriage could have been like to equate the two so readily. And the key--God, you can imagine the fraught symbolism of playing with a key that lies warm in my pocket! 'Innocent dreams can embody crudely erotic desires.' The faceless man he'd no doubt equate with the male organ, and as for the objects that spurt wildly into the air--well, I'm clearly a sick woman. What does it say about my 'erotic desires' that reading the man's book made me need a hot bath? Or perhaps a cold shower-bath."

"You sound as if you've researched this rather thoroughly."

"Yes, well, I found a copy of his Interpretation of Dreams in the ship's library," I admitted, then realised that I was also admitting to a greater degree of preoccupation than I thought sensible. To lead him away from the admission, I said, "I wouldn't have thought that you of all people would fall for the Freud craze, Holmes."

His face darkened as he came close to responding to my diversion, then he caught himself, and counterattacked with a deceptively mild, "A knowledge of psycho-logical jargon is hardly necessary when confronted with such an unambiguous statement such as that contained in those dreams of yours."

"What do you mean, unambiguous?" I protested furiously, and too late realised that I had stepped into his own diversion with both feet.

"San Francisco's earthquake, which sent things flying about, is clearly the paradigm for the first dream. And the locked rooms may represent your family's house, which has stood empty for ten years while you pretended it wasn't there."

"A house is more often symbolic of the self," I told him, although I did not know why I wanted to argue.

"True, although a house may also be simply a house."

I threw off the rug so as to face him unencumbered. "Holmes, you're mad. I've only owned the place for three years, since I turned twenty-one, and I've been rather too busy to travel halfway across the world to take care of things. As for your earthquake fantasy, I wasn't even here in 1906. And what about the faceless man dream, anyway?"

"There is as yet insufficient data to identify him," he said, not in the least troubled by my words.

I drew breath to argue with him, but in the event, I couldn't be bothered. I rose with dignity, and said merely, "If you imagine we shall have time to uncover the relevant data in San Francisco, you are mistaken. We will be there only long enough for me to sign papers, then catch the train for New York."

Tucking the rug under my arm, I left him to his pipe.

Earthquakes. Ridiculous.


He did not bring it up again, and neither did I, although over the following days I often felt his eyes upon me, and knew that at night he too lay awake, waiting for me to speak. But I did not, and he did not, and thus we traversed the Pacific. Between the dreams themselves and lying awake in dread, I scarcely slept, and began to feel as if I was walking in a wrap of cotton gauze.

Hawaii was a pleasant interlude, although the wind blew and the wide beaches were nearly deserted. We walked for hours, and I even managed to eat something, but that night I slept no better.

The following evening I wandered about the ship, up and down the various decks (trying to ignore the Freudian overtones of entering enclosed stairways) until I found myself at the furthest point of the ship, after which there was only water. The wind had stopped that morning, leaving the smoke from the stacks to trail straight back along the various layers of deck, which created a series of solitary if insalubrious places for meditation. I was on the last of those decks, with only a railing between me and the Pacific.

And there I meditated, about the dreams and what Holmes had said.

Clearly, I thought, the damage we had seen in Japan, with Tokyo still recovering from the previous year's devastating earthquake, had set the literalist idea of shaken objects into his mind. I was not worried about the possibility he had suggested; no, despite my words, it was the niggling fear that Freud might be right.

Since leaving England in January, we had marked the ten-year anniversary of our meeting and the third year of marriage. I was content in ways I had not thought possible, well matched mentally and--despite the difference in our ages, despite the regular clash of our personalities, and despite the leering innuendo of Sigmund Freud--well suited physically, to a man who interested my intellect, challenged my spirit, and roused my passions.

So, no: Psychology be damned--the dreams weren't about my marriage.

Yet there they were, keeping me exhausted and irritable and searching out a piece of quiet if smoke-covered deck where I could stand by myself and stare down at the endless sea.

The water stretched out as far as the eye could see in an expanse of gentle grey-blue swells broken only by the occasional white-capped wavelet and the line of the ship's passage, unrolling die-straight behind us until it faded into the glare of sun on the western horizon. Directly below where I stood, dominating my vision if I leant my upper body over the rail, the churn of the great screws dug an indentation in the surface, followed by a rise just behind. Like the earth from a farmer's plough, I thought dreamily, cutting a straight furrow across three thousand miles of sea. And when the ship reached the end of its watery field, it would turn and begin the next furrow, heading east; and after reaching that far shore it would shift again, ploughing west. Back and forth, to and fro, and all the while, beneath the surface the marine equivalents of earthworms and moles would be going busily about their work, oblivious of the other world above their heads. The farmer, the ship, above; the insect, the fish, below. So peaceful. Peacefully sleeping, while occasionally a seed would fall and take root in the freshly split furrow . . .

"Russell!" Holmes exclaimed, and the sharp voice and his sudden hand on my arm snatched me awake and sent my hat flying. I grabbed at it, but too late; the scrap of felt sailed out behind the ship, floating on the air for a long time until eventually it planted itself into the brine furrow. I turned to my husband.

"Why did you have to startle me like that?" I complained. "That was my last warm hat."

"Easier to purchase another hat than to fish you out of the sea," he said. "You were on the edge of going over."

"Don't be ridiculous, Holmes, I was just watching the patterns made by the propellers. What did you want, anyway?"

"The first bell for dinner went a bit ago. When you didn't come to dress I thought perhaps you hadn't heard it. And when I came down the stairs, it appeared as though you were trying to throw yourself over."

His laconic words bore just the slightest edge of true concern, as if a question lay behind them. I reached up to adjust my hair-pins, only to find them gone--weeks after chopping off my thick, waist-length hair (a necessary element of disguising myself as a British officer) my hand was still startled to find the weight of it missing from my head. Spreading my fingers instead to run them through the brief crop, I glanced back at the straight path laid out behind us, and felt a shudder play up my spine. Perhaps I shouldn't lean over any more rails while I was as tired as this, I told myself, and allowed Holmes to thread my hand through his arm and lead me back towards our cabins.

I picked at my meal, making no more response to the conversations around me than would a stone statue. Afterwards we listened to the ship's string quartet render a competent selection of Beethoven, and took a turn around the decks, Holmes chatting, me unresponsive. Eventually we took ourselves to bed, for another night's broken sleep.

The next morning the mirror showed a woman with stains beneath her eyes. Holmes had already risen, and I dressed slowly, drank several cups of strong coffee, and took a book up onto the sun-drenched deck. The pages, however, made no more sense than the conversations of the night before, and eventually I merely sat, staring at the almost imperceptible horizon of sky and sea.

After some time I became aware that Holmes had settled into the adjoining chair. My gaze came reluctantly back from the distance and settled onto the bit of brightness he held in his hand. It was, I decided, the silken scarf he had purchased in a bazaar on the first leg of our voyage out from England, a garish item perhaps useful for one of his gipsy disguises. He held it in his hands as if its bright dye bore a hidden message; it was his focussed concentration that finally caught my attention.

"What is that, Holmes?"

"The length of silk we bought in Aden. I thought to use it as an aide-memoire, to bring back the details of that curious afternoon. The whole affair puzzles me still."

Recalling the events of Aden was something of a wrench, since so much had taken place in the intervening months--weeks in India tracking down a missing spy and jousting with a mad maharaja, followed by the better part of a month in Japan with all the complexity of events there, interspersed by the dream-plagued weeks at sea. Granted, we had nearly been killed in the Aden bazaar by a balcony falling on our heads, but near-death experiences were no rarity in my life with Holmes. I had in the end dismissed it as a curious series of events that might have had tragic consequences, and fortunately had not. Clearly, Holmes was not of the same mind.

"It had to have been an accident, Holmes," I objected. "The balcony fell because the bolts were old, not because someone tried to pull it down on our heads."

"So I tell myself."

"But yourself will not listen."

"A lifetime's habit of self-preservation leaves one disinclined to accept the idea of coincidence."

"Holmes, one event does not a coincidence make."

"But two oddities catch at the mind."

"Two?"

"The fallen balcony, and the ship's passenger who enquired about us, then disembarked. In Aden." He raised an eyebrow at me to underscore the importance of that last.


From the Hardcover edition.
Laurie R. King|Author Q&A

About Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King - Locked Rooms

Photo © 2000 Seth Affoumado

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen Mary Russell mysteries, five contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, the Stuyvesant & Grey novels Touchstone and The Bones of Paris, and the acclaimed A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. She lives in Northern California.

Author Q&A

In Locked Rooms, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes travel to San Francisco so that Russell can settle her late parents' estate. How does this book shed new light on Russell's character? How about on Holmes?

We first learned about Russell's history in California in The Beekeeper's Apprentice and now, seven books later, we're finally getting down to details. Unfortunately, Russell proves to have some sort of persistent, and previously unsuspected, mental block about her entire childhood, so that details are hard for her to remember. This problem of an unreliable narrator in Locked Rooms finds its solution in having Holmes take a greater role in the story than he does in the previous books, with sections narrated by Russell alternating with those following Holmes and his various Irregulars. It is a personal book for Russell, being entirely wrapped up in her past and that of her family, but it also gives us insight into Holmes, particularly his relationship with this young woman who is his partner and wife.

You have ties to San Francisco, the setting for Locked Roomsyour mother was born there, you spent part of your childhood in the Bay Area, and you currently live in northern California. Was it significant for you to set this book in a location you know so well? Did you draw on your family history at all?

Most of the Russell books are set in England, but I greatly enjoy writing those set elsewhere as well—O Jerusalem in what was at the time Palestine, The Game in India. To an Englishman in the 1920s, California would have been a far more exotic place than India, what with the Wild West overtones, the devastating fire eighteen years earlier, and Prohibition adding its piquant flavor to the place. In 1924, the Twenties were just getting under way, so for the first time in the books, we find ourselves in speakeasies and dancing that new craze, the Charleston. My grandparents, both of whom went through the earthquake, were a part of that era; in fact one of the characters bears a name similar to that of my grandmother, Flossie. The book is dedicated to Flossie and her husband, Dick.

For readers who have yet to make the acquaintance of Mary Russell, what would you tell them about the series?

Mary Russell is a young, female (and feminist) Twentieth Century edition of Sherlock Holmes. Their partnership is a good part rivalry, which makes for some fun scenes, but it also enables me to develop the rather two-dimensional character of Holmes that Conan Doyle preferred.

In previous Russell/Holmes books, literary characters such as Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey and Rudyard Kipling's Kim O'Hara have made appearances. Locked Rooms features a real historical figure, Dashiell Hammett. Why did you choose to have Hammett play a part in the story?

Well, I originally thought to give him a brief cameo, since he was there in San Francisco at the time and I like to people the background of the stories with actual individuals—something along the lines of the mention of T. E. Lawrence at the end of O Jerusalem . However, once Hammett had his well-shod foot in the door, he just kept muscling his way in until he nearly took the book over. With Russell rendered unsuitable for combat due to her psychological preoccupations, Holmes needed a suitable foil. Hammett is it.

Do you have a favorite moment or scene in Locked Rooms?


The chase scene through Chinatown was fun to write, with caged chickens flying and a bullet whizzing through the telephone exchange. Still, my favorite parts of the books are almost always the small sparkly bits. Things like, when Russell brings up the opportunity to travel to New York by airplane, Holmes' reaction is given as, "Holmes' upper lip was nothing if not stiff." And when Russell, Holmes, and Hammett confront an aged Chinese scholar, I shaped the scene around a similar character in one of Hammett's short stories, although I knew that very, very few people would get the joke.

You've traveled to many of the locales in the Russell/Holmes books, including England, Israel and India. Where will your travels take you next, and will you use it as a setting for a future book?


The next book coming out is set in San Francisco, modern and historical, but after that I think I'll be writing a stand-alone set in England in the Twenties and Thirties. In the future, I'd like to develop an episode mentioned in Locked Rooms, when Russell and Holmes pause for three weeks in Japan to do a job for the emperor. That episode was placed there almost entirely to give me an excuse to go to Japan.

What makes Russell and Holmes such an interesting and appealing couple, both personally and professionally? How do they complement one another?

They are each other, with profound differences that arise out of their sex and their times. In fact, that was probably the initial impetus for Russell's character, the question, "What would that man's mind look like in a woman?" Yes, Holmes is a Victorian male gentleman, but on the other hand, a brain is a kind of engine and can be adapted for all kinds of settings. When she and he clash, it is because of their similarities, not their differences.

Besides the Russell/Holmes books, you also write the Kate Martinelli series and stand-alone novels. Is it important to you to have variety in your writing life?


Oh yes, absolutely essential. If I had to write a string of Russells in a row, I'd end up doing violence to the poor girl. The shift in perspective, voice, setting, even language is like traveling to a foreign country each year; it keeps me from seeing that I'm just doing the same thing, sitting and pecking out words on a keyboard.

When did your affinity for storytelling begin?

My affinity for stories has been there since I was tiny, although I didn't begin to tell my own until I was in my thirties. I've always loved to escape into books, and since we moved a lot when I was a kid, local libraries became my most steadfast source of friendship.

Do you enjoy the research aspect of creating your books? How about for the Russell series in particular?

I am a recovering academic, and find research dangerously addictive, to the point that a book often threatens to wander off into the stacks and become permanently lost amidst the facts. I try to avoid this by doing a minimum of research at the early stages, then later concentrating on given areas after I know what I need. However, I still find myself reading a ton of books that end up having nothing to do with the finished story.

After eight books, is it difficult to come up with new adventures for Russell and Holmes?

I haven't had any problems so far. After they get back to England in a couple of years, I may have to set off a few firecrackers under them to keep them (and me) from becoming complacent.

What are you working on now, and when will it be available?

It's sort of halfway between a Kate Martinelli and a Mary Russell, which sounds impossible but seems to be working remarkably well. It's still nameless at the moment—it's been through two or three titles on my computer, but I've yet to come up with one my editor cares much for. (This is hardly unusual for me—actually, neither of my children had legal names for weeks after their births—but it does frustrate those saddled with the job of writing catalog copy.) I can say that at long last, in the summer of 2006, Kate Martinelli and her friends both in and out of the San Francisco Police Department will return, investigating a death on the Marin headlands that has something to do with...Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.

I'm having a whole lot of fun with it.

Praise

Praise

"Locked Rooms brims with lively 1920s color and verve, some of it in the warrens of San Francisco's Chinatown.... [a] vividly imagined series."—Seattle Times

"Richly imagined.... King’s re-creation of San Francisco, especially the backstory during the devastating 1906 earthquake, is superb, and it’s a pleasure to see the unusually competent Russell struggling with her own psyche."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Utterly mesmerizing .... In alternating sections, told in first person for Mary and third for Holmes, the unraveling of long-buried and terrifying memories also unwinds a skein of wonderful historical texture.... A highlight in an altogether outstanding series."—Booklist, starred review

"A humdinger of a plot ... plus pulsating descriptions of San Francisco's tent cities, looters, and flattened Chinatown in the quake's aftermath."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"A truly bravura performance...has all the magnetic appeal of the best of the original Conan Doyle novels."—Strand Magazine

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