A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Theology and Mystery: Laurie R. King

Some time ago I began dropping bizarre hints about a series of books I was reading: mystery novels which dealt with theological themes. Since no one solved my Mysterious Challenge, I've decided to reveal the author and series.

The author is
Laurie R. King, an award-winning California novelist. The series that introduced me to King was the Mary Russell series. I'd imagine that to most mystery readers, the Mary Russell books are of interest because they include Sherlock Holmes as a main secondary character. King would be quick to deny that these are "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries, and her writing style reinforces the fact that these are really Mary's storires: most of the books have been written from the first person perspective of Mary. Interestingly, the most recent novel, Locked Rooms, includes third person sections which reveal Holmes' perspective. I'm not sure yet how I feel about this change: I rather prefer Mary's POV. However, I suspect there are plenty of Holmes-fans who would welcome more glimpses from his eyes.

I find the inclusion of Holmes to be entertaining and at times intriguing. Holmes serves as a link between post-WWI England (most novels take place in the 20's) and the Victorian era. Through her connection to Holmes, Mary encounters real-life Victorians such as Sabine Baring-Gould, and to fictional characters such as Rudyard Kipling's Kim. Both Justice Hall and The Moor create a strong sense of connection to a rich past. In The Moor (unquestionably my favorite in the series), the past is seen as fading, as Baring-Gould nears the end of a very long life. Justice Hall, however, offers a good deal of promise for the future of an ancient family. All of which is to say that the time period of these historical novels is deeply appealing, because, as a time of transition, it enables King to explore both the nineteenth-century (primarily through the presence of those who lived most of their life in that century, but also through the strong physical presence of nineteenth-century buildings, from cottages to mansions) and the twentieth.

However, that's not the reason I'm blogging about Laurie King. I'm recommending her to my readers foremostly because she is a trained scholar of religion, and her study of religion visibly influences her work. Mary Russell is herself a theologian, while Anne Waverly of A Darker Place is an academic specializing in "cults" - not that Waverly would endorse that term. These books are not Christian mysteries along the lines of G.K. Chesterton or Debra Murphy, but they are deeply concerned with theology and morality. That's something one rarely finds in the world of secular fiction, and it's something I'd like to support.

Those interested in King on account of her use of religion in her novels start by reading this section of her homepage. And if your time allows it, I do recommend picking up one of the Mary Russell mysteries. If nothing else, they have the merit of being very well-written. Would that all great plotters were also good stylists! All in all, King is a treat.


Blogger Dorian Speed said...

THIS is where I heard about Laurie King! The mystery is solved!

Actually, I heard snippets of an interview with her on NPR the other day, and thought, "I know someone recommended her books, but I can't remember who it was." I've just started _A Darker Place_ and I'm enjoying it so far.

Thanks for the recommendation!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

Happy to be of service!

1:57 PM  

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