Book Review: Castle Shade by Laurie R. King

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Repeat award-winner Laurie R. King delivers another gripping, witty and genuinely creepy instalment in her refreshing Holmes & Russell series.

Published by: Allison & Busby, 2021

How do you breathe new life into a character almost as old as the hills? A character in which literary culture is so steeped that it forms part of its very fabric.

That’s never an easy question to answer, but California-based novelist Laurie R. King has gone some way to answering it with her Sherlock Holmes & Mary Russell series. A winner of awards and frequent topper of best-seller lists, King’s rejuvenation of one of literature’s most famous characters is crafted out of pure respect and accessible storytelling.

In Castle Shade, the 18th book in the series, Holmes and his wife Russell find themselves transported to Transylvania after hearing of disturbing happenings surrounding Queen Marie’s residence at Castle Bran. With a healthy dose of scepticism intact, our protagonists are plunged into a world of shadows and plots, haunting histories and the disappearance of a young woman.

But what is behind these occurrences? Are they genuinely supernatural weirdnesses? Or is somebody trying to threaten the Queen?

A Refreshing Sherlock Holmes

Gripping detective mysteries need to kick things off with a hefty, engrossing hook. And Castle Shade doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The first sentence is as poetic and vivid as it needs to be to immediately grab one’s attention:

‘I ripped myself from the fever dream somewhere west of Ljubljana’.

The other thing that’s crucial in the reimagining of a classic character is making the depiction refreshing. Throughout the novel, King achieves that with aplomb. Whilst Holmes is still cold and emotionless, there are idiosyncrasies and nuances in his psyche that take on a new light in the context of Romanian – and slightly feminist – society. And Holmes’ relationship with his brother Mycroft is also superbly written.

King also understands that knowing, humorous one-liners are essential to bringing the uninitiated in to Mary Russell’s world, too. Wilful nods to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Countess Bathory are frequently made by the characters, extending the accessibility in a very human sense.

Bringing Transylvania To Life

Where King really excels is in atmospheric scene-setting. Her descriptions of Bran Castle and the surrounding countryside are particularly arresting, and frequently she manages to up the ante for the next chapter in a final sentence:

‘In some fairy tales, happily ever after is where things end. In others, happiness is where the problems begin.’

Similarly, the way she writes about history – particularly WW1 and the Bolshevik revolution – is sensitively handled. Evocative and timely, it all adds to the sense of suspense in this simultaneously vast and claustrophobic landscape.

In the action sequences, the tension veers from quiet and creeping to an all-guns-blazing pace. At the denouement everything comes together in a pleasingly fulsome way, and King even manages to pack one poignant and wonderfully written twist into the final two chapters.

A Charm-soaked Winner

While having read King’s other Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes novels might give you a deeper understanding of their dynamic, it’s not necessary. King leaves no room for miscomprehension – the novel is as charmingly simple as it is wittily open as it is often genuinely creepy. It’s an art that Laurie R. King has perfected, and this is another winner in the catalogue.

If Castle Shade sounds like your bag, then there are a couple of exciting giveaways taking place over at Allison & Busby.

First, a chance to win the entire Sherlock Holmes & Mary Russell series alongside a pot of delicious honey.

Secondly, a promo whereby you can buy the book and an exclusive signed bookplate for £15. Snap it up while you have the chance by following here.

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