As big a fan as I am of Laurie R. King’s two mystery-fiction series--the first starring Sherlock Holmes and his much younger wife, Mary Russell; the other focusing on present-day cop Kate Martinelli--her 2008 standalone novel, Touchstone, remains my favorite King work. In that story, set in 1926, we are introduced to Bennett Grey, an amazing young man whose brush with death during World War I heightened his perceptiveness to the point that he’s now a kind of human lie detector: the touchstone of the title. Gray has become a recluse, until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes calling, intending to assess his potential as a weapon in a new kind of warfare.
There's a similar, equally fascinating character named Robert Goodman in The God of the Hive (Bantam), King’s 10th and latest Holmes-Russell story--and such a direct follow-up to last year’s The Language of Bees (which ended with the words “to be continued”), that I strongly recommend your reading Language first.
As King tells Amazon.com, “Basically, I have a low threshold for boredom. For a series writer this can be a dangerous thing, since any series is to some extent the same people doing things similar to what they did before. Over the years, I’ve gotten around this by alternating one series with another, and tossing in the occasional standalone.”
She has also vastly complicated the lives of Holmes and Russell. “You think you know the characters?” she asks. “Well, how about a long-lost son for Sherlock Holmes--and if that’s not enough, maybe give him a granddaughter as well? Then for the following year, take the ingredients of The Language of Bees and change it from first-person to multiple points of view, toss with a dash of modern espionage and a sprinkling of ancient British mythology, and pour them all out onto Westminster Bridge in the wee hours, and you have The God of the Hive.”
The plot of this latest novel picks up where The Language of Bees left off--in the summer of 1924. A religious fanatic, the Reverend Thomas Brothers, who has made it his mission to unleash psychic energies through the means of human sacrifice, has grievously wounded Holmes’ artist son, Damian Adler. In a determined attempt to save Damien’s life, Holmes has hied off to Holland, while Mary travels across Britain, hoping to protect Damien’s half-Chinese daughter, Estelle, from the diabolical Brothers and his allies, one of whom is a scheming diplomat with a serious dislike of Mycroft Holmes.
By story’s end, Robert Goodman has joined Bennett Gray in proving that author King has few equals as a creator of memorable characters.