Mary Russell is the enticing fictional character created by mystery writer Laurie R. King for a series of books on Sherlock Holmes. In these books, Mary Russell, who begins as a quite young, somewhat clumsy but extremely intelligent teenager, gradually becomes Holmes’ companion, partner in crime solving, and eventually his wife. The Mary Russell books have won high praise for feminizing the masculine world of Holmes and for fitting well into the original genre.
The Mary Russell novels tend to not deal with the Conan Doyle cases, though Mary alludes to these cases. She is frequently the first person narrator of the novels, and so her perspective on Holmes offers comedy, sympathy and interest. Instead of reworking Holmes original cases, King moves into new cases that would have reflected Holmes’ later life. Holmes sees Mary Russell as his equal and a fresh source of delight as first his trainee and then his partner in work and life.
Mary Russell makes for an interesting character in her own right, since she is quite different from the Edwardian or early 20th century woman of her time. She stands out in many respects. She is proud of her Jewish heritage, and becomes a serious scholar in the first and second books. In the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice she is being raised by an aunt who has little regard for her. She clumsily bursts onto Holmes' quiet retirement and immediately engages him with her insights and willingness to listen to him.
The relationship between Mary and Holmes is at first almost parental, as he becomes to her, the father she lacks, the brother she misses, and really the only person in her life who has cared about her since her family’s death. Gradually, she meets Holmes’ cast of characters and draws them with much greater detail than did Doyle. Watson is less featured in the novels, but Mycroft Holmes is an important element in most of the novels.
Mary Russell is definitely the feminine equivalent of Holmes in the later books. Her reflections on her work with Holmes range from humorous to touching, and unlike the Conan Doyle stories, mysteries are given far greater detail, offering the reader an actual chance to guess at or solve the mysteries due to clues presented in the stories. This is a feature often missing from Doyle’s work, since Holmes has a way of noting things not ever mentioned by Doyle. Mary Russell as a narrator tends to companion the reader explaining events as they occur.
The Mary Russell series is ongoing and thus far, Laurie King has written eight Mary Russell Books. In order of publications these are:
- The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women
- A Letter of Mary
- The Moor
- O, Jerusalem
- Justice Hall
- The Game
- Locked Rooms