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Pirate King by Laurie King (thoughts)

September 1, 2011

As regular readers know, I adore the Mary Russell series written by Laurie King. Set in the early interwar period, and featuring a woman with enough talents, cleverness, and dry wit to make a partner for Sherlock Holmes, each book is overflowing with wonderful writing, spot-on characterisations, and vivid settings. Oh yes, and there’s usually a mystery too. ;) I’ve been slowly rereading the series (and finding that each book is even richer on the second go-round), and happily reading the new ones as they arrive. So I was thrilled to be contacted by King’s publicist and offered an advanced review copy (my mom was thrilled as well!) ofPirate King, the eleventh installment. I find it’s a rare author who can manage to make such a long series work, but Laurie King is definitely one of them. The previous two books in the series (Language of Bees and God of the Hive, which cover the same large story arc and are thus kind of sequels) packed a deep emotional punch. I suppose King decided that Russell and Holmes, not to mention the readers, needed a break, and so this book is much more lighthearted and humurous. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Russell finds herself undercover as a secretary to an independent silent film company shooting a new movie based on a metascript centered on a Gilbert and Sullivan pirate musical. The company is known for its commitment to authentic productions, and thus Russell travels to Portugal with a large cast and crew, where a comedy of errors begins to play out.

Now, I’m quite skeptical of humour in books; I often find an author’s attempts at jokes more hokey or corny than anything. So I hesitate to tell you just how funny this book is, because if you’re like me that might make you not want to read it. ;) Let me reassure you: the book is told in Russell’s voice, and her dry narrative strikes the perfect counterpoint to the hijinks that occur. Plus, it was the roaring twenties: I’m sure all sorts of craziness actually did occur! While there is a mystery, or at least a kind of suspense/thriller plot, at the core of the book, really this is all about playful, lighthearted fun. It was a treat to read, and I cannot wait to see where King takes the story next! If you’re already a fan, get your hands on this sooner rather than later. And if you’re looking for a smart, well-written, completely convincing and entertaining series with a strong woman character, do give these books a go. The first is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which is more episodic than the later ones, so do read at least the second, A Monstrous Regiment of Women before making up your mind. Of course, I’ve seen very few bloggers who haven’t fallen in love, but there’s always something nervewracking about recommending your very favourite books, isn’t there?! These books are dear to my readerly heart. Oh, and my mom loved this one (and the entire series) too! Perhaps I’ll convince her to do a guest post. ;)

Suggested Companion Reads

19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2011 1:23 pm

    My partner & I are listening to these audiobooks for the third time through right now, and very much looking forward to the 9/6 release of this listen. (We tend to consume our lighter fare via audio since we both do a lot of crafting/coding and like to listen at the same time.) Love Russell & Holmes! I also love Gilbert & Sullivan, so I’m especially psyched for this installment.

  2. September 1, 2011 4:04 pm

    I recently got a good deal on the first three Mary Russell novels and I’m really looking forward to reading them. I also adore Sarah Caudwell, so I reckon The Pirate King would be very much my sense of humour!

  3. September 1, 2011 5:46 pm

    Jenny and I both enjoyed this one a lot–our review is coming next week. King hasn’t stepped wrong yet in this series. It’s remarkable! And there’s another Russell coming next year.

    Have you read any of her others? I’ve enjoyed all her standalones, and I want to give the Kate Martinellis another try one day. (I had bad luck with the first one on my first attempt.)

  4. Sue Wilhite permalink
    September 1, 2011 8:03 pm

    Thank you for also recommending “Thus Was Adonis Murdered” – I think the funniest mystery of all times. I’m anxiously awaiting The Pirate King…

  5. September 2, 2011 4:25 am

    I haven’t read any book by Laurie King, but I would love to, unfortunately my library doesn’t have copies of her books, and as I am in a book buying ban I can’t buy it. I’ll have to ask this one for Christmas.

  6. September 2, 2011 6:22 am

    I really loved the first 3 or 4 books in this series and have been meaning to catch up for a number of years now (how time flies when you have a tonne of books to read)! It’s so good to know that you’ve enjoyed all the others too and I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with Mary Russell again:)

  7. September 2, 2011 7:27 am

    Oh I love Laurie King also!! In fact I will go so far as saying that Justice Hall was THE best book I read last year – and I read lots. Her description of that house and the countryside was just fantastic. The only thing is I haven’t been able to get into her other Martinelli series – not sure why, maybe it’s too contemporary?

  8. September 2, 2011 9:41 am

    I really need to get back around to this series. I have only read the first book so far.

  9. September 2, 2011 10:04 am

    Wonderful review, Eva! I know that Laurie King is one of your favourite writers, and for some reason I thought she was a literary fiction writer like many of the writers in your list. By an interesting coincidence I saw one of her books in the bookstore last week (I can’t remember the title, but it was a Mary Russell book and it might have been ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’), but, because it was a part of a series I didn’t get it. And now I see your post and you have written about the new Mary Russell book :) This series looks wonderful from your description. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list and when I am in the mood to start a new series, I will look for this. It is wonderful that both you and your mom have read all of Laurie King’s books and read every new one and discuss about it. It made me remember an old friend of mine who used to read every Umberto Eco book with her mom, when it came out. Looking forward to your mom’s guest post one of these days :)

  10. September 2, 2011 7:12 pm

    OOH! I have to get me to a bookstore, pronto! I love all the Mary Russell books and love it when books are funny, so this sounds like the best of everything to me.

  11. September 3, 2011 6:22 pm

    I’m behind on this series. Locked Rooms was the last one that I read. I think I’m a bit in the minority in that I don’t think the series has been uniformly great. Beekeeper’s Apprentice is one of my favorite books, but some of the later books like Justice Hall just didn’t click with me the same way the first book did (I also really enjoyed #2, #3 and #5).

    Still, I do want to continue on at some point – and I like the sounds of this one. It also makes me think of being in 8th grade and performing in our school’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” (‘For he is a pirate king! He is! Hoorah for the pirate king! And it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king!’)

  12. September 4, 2011 3:28 pm

    I can’t wait to read this one! So looking forward to it. I just finished the short story she’s released called Beekeeping for Beginners — looking back at the moment when Mary and Sherlock first met. It was great fun.

  13. September 4, 2011 4:15 pm

    Why, why, why have I not started this series yet???? Of course it’s that old too many books, too little time thing. But really, this is a series I *need* to make time for!

  14. September 7, 2011 4:00 pm

    Well, I didn’t LOVE the first one, but then, I’m not a mystery person. Do you have to read them in order? Would this funnier one work without the other background of the other novels? I’ve found myself inpatient with series but it does sound like I need to give the second one a try too :)

  15. coops456 permalink
    September 8, 2011 4:49 am

    I love Laurie R. King’s work, first discovered through the Martinelli series. It took me a couple of books to get into Russell but now I adore her strength and wit, she has certainly grown as a character.
    The beauty of the series is that the books are often so different from each other; Justice Hall and Locked Rooms could not be more different in setting and tone, yet to me both are 5-star reads.

    King also has embraced the web and social media to interact with her readers – and market her work, naturally – to great effect. One can follow @mary_russell on Twitter, for example.

  16. Fridab permalink
    September 11, 2011 4:13 pm

    I am on page 193 of The Pirate King & am waiting to figure out where Laurie King is going with this book. Where is her usual interesting & well written storyline? I am very disappointed since her Mary russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are my favorites. Having read all of them,i will finish this one & even listen to it on cd just in case it gets better that way.

  17. September 21, 2011 12:08 pm

    I somehow hadn’t heard of these books before but they sound fantastic. Will definitely look them up.

  18. September 30, 2011 5:55 am

    I just wanted to let you know I linked to your review from mine this week. I’m not a mystery reader and don’t read the Kate Martinelli series, but I got hooked on the Mary Russell series with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.
    I agree about recommending it. I thought my sister would really like this series, but she tried TBA and didn’t care for it. Too bad I didn’t have your advice then. I should have pressured her to read the second book before making up her mind! ;)


  1. A Comic Interlude: Pirate King by Laurie R. King « Bay State Reader's Advisory: Reading Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian

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