Narrator: Jenny Sterlin
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #11
Published by Recorded Books on 9/6/11
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
The eleventh outing in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series finds Russell all but fleeing her home to take on an investigation for Scotland Yard after learning that her brother-in-law, Mycroft Holmes, is coming to visit. After events in the previous book, Russell and Mycroft are at odds and a stint investigating the strange (and illegal) events that seem to accompany every Fflytte Pictures film shoot will take her out of his path.
Acting as a producer’s assistant, Russell begins the thankless job of shepherding cast and crew on a journey from England to Portugal and finally to Morocco. Fflytte Films is engaged in making a film called Pirate King. Pirate King (the film) is the story of a film crew who is making a film (also named Pirate King) about the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. As they film their “picture within a picture”, the fictional film crew becomes involved with real-life Barbary pirates. The book, of course, adds another layer in that it is itself a story about film crew who becomes entangled with pirates after hiring them to act the part of film pirates (in the film that is about a film crew making a movie about The Pirates of Penzance).
Did I like the book? It was well-written and modestly entertaining but it didn’t capture my attention and interest in the way that all the previous books in this series have. It generally takes at least one of three things to make a novel successful for me: an emotionally engaging character-driven story, a tense or exciting action driven plot, or a complex and layered story-line. In Pirate King I found the characters of Russell and Holmes to have hit a static point in their development and, in fact, Holmes was absent for at least half the book so much of the amusing interaction between them was absent as well. I found very little action or true mystery to draw me in and when the story peaked in terms of plot reveals, I found myself feeling let-down at the simplicity of it. In terms of layering and complexity, if there was any, I apparently needed to be hit over the head with it because other than the plot-within-a-plot-within-a-plot theme, I missed it. I kept watching layers of the story being peeled away, waiting for a truly unique character or mystery to be revealed or a situation to occur that required Russell and Holmes to apply their unique skill-set, only to end up with nothing left at the end other than a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I think if it was a stand-alone, I would probably rate it a better book but it suffers significantly when compared to others in the series.
The first book in this series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was one of two audiobooks that started my obsession with the medium and with this latest release, Jenny Sterlin continues to deliver an outstanding performance. In that most wonderful of audiobook magic, she has come to simply be the voices of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in my head. The cadence and inflection she gives Russell aptly portrays her intellectual and forthright personality and Holmes’ more relaxed intonations and his tendency to draw out certain words when annoyed encapsulates the jaded and no-need-to-tell-me-I-know-everything-already persona King has fleshed out. I admire Ms. Sterlin’s ability to differentiate between male and female characters with relatively subtle voice shifts and she smoothly navigates between various accents and dialects.
Overall, excellent narration failed to make what I consider the weakest book in the series more than just a relatively pleasant listen.