Dear Rachel, 

Hi! Remember me? Your partner in crime-novel-blogging? I’m in a getting-things-done mood, and on my list is “WRITE ABOUT STILL LIFE.”

One of my favorite things about Gamache is that he seems to be such a perfect mixture of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Gamache has all the politeness, ceremony, and tidiness of person of the Belgian detective with his moustaches, and all the small-town concern, and approach to murder as a human crime of the kindly old spinster. In every Gamache novel I have read so far, someone makes the point that Gamache sees murder as a deeply human crime - it begins with human actions and human emotions that fester until hatred spills forth in violence. Miss Marple’s genius was that she could always break down complex mysteries to their human elements, and thus deduce who the killer was. Gamache does the same, with the aid of modern crime labs.

Like you, I believe this to be my first Canadian crime novel, and certainly my first Quebecois one. I knew that Quebec was the region of Canada that uses French, but I had no idea about the tensions you mention between the French and the English. Since Penny writes in English primarily, I lose track of who is a fluent French speaker and who is not. As you mention, Ben Hadley has strong emotions about the French-speaking majority, so he speaks English. (I remember him rehearsing his story in French before having the chance to speak to Gamache, and that rather endeared him to me.) But I cannot remember who else is a primary English-speaker. Was Jane fluent in French?  Anyway, I don’t remember many other people saying much about the French-English tensions, so that may say more about Ben than Quebec. 

In regards to Jane’s painting, let us review. She painted the day of the fair - many townspeople participating in or enjoying the parade, having a good time. We learn that she painted it in memory of a woman who died, who was loved by her friends. I believe the painting was meant as more of a tribute - a way of capturing the feel of Three Pines and the community that supported Timmer Hadley, and less of a literal snapshot of the day. But still, it seems to have triggered the murder of a seemingly harmless older woman!

I really wished I could see Jane’s painting. Or even just her style of painting. Penny provides enough of a description of it that I think I can conjure up an image of it, but I’m no artist. I may be creating something that would be even more universally reviled than Jane’s submission to the art show!

I’m really curious to know what you think of Agent Nichol and her relationship with Gamache. And what about Clara and Peter? and Oliver and Gabri? and RUTH! The crotchety old poet? I love so many of these characters now, and Louise Penny for bringing them to life!

Daydreaming of moving to Three Pines, 

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I have just completed the first six Chapters of Still Life, and I’m ready to delve into some serious discussion! 

Firstly, I think your comparison to Christie is very apt—partially because my immediate impression of Inspector Gamache was that he seemed in many ways to be something of a modern, Quebecois Hercule Poirot, and partially because of the way the narrative is structured. Christie always paints (no pun intended) a myriad of vivid characters, all of whom are explored in depth, often from different perspectives. Still Life is constructed similarly, with detectives and potential suspects all getting their moment to contribute to the framework of the story. In

Also, I think this might be very the very first Canadian mystery I’ve ever read (I know Alan Bradley, who writes our much beloved Flavia de Luce Mysteries, is from Canada, but Flavia’s world is British through and through, so I’m not really sure one could label the series as definitively Canadian), and I’m already compelled to learn more about the history of French and English tensions in the Quebec region. I can’t yet determine if that issue is going to prove a factor in the murder of Jane Neal or not—obviously, we know the town of Three Pines received its name from an old code used to welcome English loyalists during the American Revolution (interestingly, Gamache also notes that Peter and Clara have a Loyalist Style house), and Ben Hadley seems to feel threatened by the province’s French-speaking majority, but I’m not sure if that’s just par for the course with a book taking place in Quebec, or if it has a deeper significance. 

Clearly, Jane’s painting of the fair and the seemingly natural death of Timmer Hadley are strongly connected to the murder (whoever isn’t pictured murdered Timmer and made it seem like natural causes, maybe?), but I’m guessing there’s even more to it than that, because Jane being dead doesn’t prevent the painting from being seen.

So what are your thoughts on Still Life? I know you’ve already finished it, so it’s very possibly you’re just laughing at my bad observations right now, but do tell me what you took away from these first few chapters. Also, what in God’s name is Jane’s living room?!

Au revoir,

Rachel

Dear Rachel, 
Here’s your next assignment: Still Life, by Louise Penny. This is the first book in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Novels. (I’ve already read it, and am almost done with the second in the series. I might just read through the entire series this summer.) I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the perfect distraction for a 7 hour train ride, and I have been recommending it to all my friends.
Someone somewhere compared Penny to Agatha Christie (I can’t find the blurb right now), and I think it is a very apt description. Like Christie’s work, it seems that many of the books in the Gamache series take place in small towns. Still Life takes place in Three Pines, a small, quaint, virtually perfect Québécois town.  Penny is masterful at fleshing out the characters and the relationships between them with a few brush strokes and I found myself truly caring for them and hoping that my favorites would not be the murderer. When the Chief Inspector arrived on the scene, I quickly came to admire him and care for him as well. Gamache’s crime-solving philosophy also reminds me a bit of Miss Marple. I think you’ll see why. 
Something I hope you’ll watch out for is any mention of The Arnot Case. I still don’t know exactly what happened in it, but it is mentioned obliquely several times in what I’ve read so far. I’m thinking of it as the story arc of the entire season, where each novel is an episode. I’m sure it will all be revealed someday, but I wonder if we can figure it out before then.
Au revoir, 
Rachel

Dear Rachel, 

Here’s your next assignment: Still Life, by Louise Penny. This is the first book in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Novels. (I’ve already read it, and am almost done with the second in the series. I might just read through the entire series this summer.) I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the perfect distraction for a 7 hour train ride, and I have been recommending it to all my friends.

Someone somewhere compared Penny to Agatha Christie (I can’t find the blurb right now), and I think it is a very apt description. Like Christie’s work, it seems that many of the books in the Gamache series take place in small towns. Still Life takes place in Three Pines, a small, quaint, virtually perfect Québécois town.  Penny is masterful at fleshing out the characters and the relationships between them with a few brush strokes and I found myself truly caring for them and hoping that my favorites would not be the murderer. When the Chief Inspector arrived on the scene, I quickly came to admire him and care for him as well. Gamache’s crime-solving philosophy also reminds me a bit of Miss Marple. I think you’ll see why. 

Something I hope you’ll watch out for is any mention of The Arnot Case. I still don’t know exactly what happened in it, but it is mentioned obliquely several times in what I’ve read so far. I’m thinking of it as the story arc of the entire season, where each novel is an episode. I’m sure it will all be revealed someday, but I wonder if we can figure it out before then.

Au revoir, 

Rachel

R&R chat about "Speaking from Among the Bones"


  • Girl Detective: I stayed up all night reading the new Flavia—have you finished it?
  • rartastic: I don't even have it yet! There was an address snafu and now it's being sent back!
  • GD: Oh no!!!
  • GD: It's REALLY good, and includes something I've been suspecting.
  • GD: When you read it, text me. I need to talk about it!
  • RAR: Harriet comes back, doesn't she?
  • GD: I can't confirm nor deny.
  • RAR: I'll be sure to debrief with you when I finish it!
  • : :Almost a week later::
  • RAR: Read 16 chapters now. I like Adam. Read the last sentence too! Couldn't help myself!
  • : :A couple of hours after that::
  • RAR: Finished!
  • GD: Okay so what's the big secret about Harriet? There's something more than 'went climbing' going on...
  • RAR: Remember what Aunt Felicity told Flavia in the Christmas book?
  • GD: No, remind me
  • RAR: she and the actress and some of the other people were basically spies for the government during the war.
  • RAR: I am starting to think Harriet was too.
  • GD: Riiiiight
  • GD: That would make sense, and explain why Flavia as a detective is just like Harriet
  • RAR: And it might be far-fetched, but maybe Haviland studying the stamp journals so closely might be him looking for secret messages from Harriet/the spy ring?
  • GD: Oooh there's a thought
  • RAR: (I like how Flavia does chemical experiments like Sherlock, but knows all the village gossip like Miss Marple)
  • GD: There's something to do with that portrait from the 3rd book too.
  • RAR: yeah
  • RAR: Although that might have been a touch to reassure Flavia that she was loved.
  • RAR: poor girl
  • RAR: I really loved the little moments Flavia had with each family member in this book.
  • RAR: Including Mrs. Mullet and Dogger, of course.
  • GD: I loved the bit with Alf, too.
  • RAR: ugh, yes!
  • RAR: "I'll wash up later"
  • RAR: ::continues with war story::
  • GD: The murder was much more of a Macguffin in this story than the previous ones I think
  • GD: But I really enjoyed that
  • RAR: Macguffin?
  • GD: It's a Hitchcock term. It's the device that moves the story forward which is ultimately irrelevant
  • RAR: Ah, yes. true.
  • RAR: At this point in the series, I really care about Flavia and Buckshaw. It would be hard to ignore their financial difficulties any longer and still be the least bit realistic.
  • RAR: And I want that part to be solved so that the stories can continue and Flavia will never run out of laboratory glassware.
  • RAR: Does that make sense? I feel like I've left out an important connector somewhere.
  • GD: No, I know exactly what you mean
  • RAR: So. Was Harriet found alive or dead?
  • GD: We don't know!
  • RAR: your hypothesis?
  • GD: Alive.
  • RAR: Oh I really hope so.
  • RAR: Or dead with a will in her coat pocket leaving Buckshaw to Haviland and the girls forever and ever, amen.
  • RAR: But alive would be better.
  • GD: LOL
  • GD: I've always thought she was alive since book 1
  • RAR: yeah. It seems like he brings up the mountaineering accident too often for her to just be dead.
  • GD: Right?
  • RAR: Can I just say that the scene in the bedroom where Flavia and Feely talk about her engagement to Dieter made me have actual positive feelings about Ophelia?
  • GD: Me too!
  • GD: It was quite sweet. Daphne crying too
  • RAR: Yes! That scene felt so real!
  • GD: And what Flavia says about Daphne being scary because you really don't know where she's coming from.
  • RAR: And then later doesn't she say that Daffy is almost as perceptive as she is?
  • GD: Interesting duo they would make...
  • RAR: High praise, coming from Flavia.
  • RAR: Harriet needs to be alive, to restore balance to Buckshaw and the de Luce sisters.
  • GD: Agreed
  • RAR: from Alan Bradley's wikipedia page: In 2012, director Sam Mendes optioned the Flavia de Luce series, which he intends to develop into TV movies
  • GD: I heard!
  • RAR: I will say it again: Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson for Inspector Hewitt and Antigone
  • GD: Ha!
  • GD: Helen McCrory needs to be in it
  • RAR: ooooh! Who would she play?
  • GD: I don't know...I'll have to think on it
  • GD: How old is Haviland?
  • RAR: Ugh I don't know. 50's?
  • GD: That's what I was thinking.
  • GD: Richard E. Grant? Hugo Weaving?
  • RAR: Grant is the physical type I see in my head for Haviland. But Hugo Weaving would do the whole silent, distracted thing well, I think.
  • RAR: What about Dogger? Bill Murray?
  • RAR: Or maybe he's just in my head because of Groundhog Day.
  • GD: LOL I think he would be the same age as Haviland, no?
  • RAR: Yes. They were in the war together.
  • GD: Wait...Hugh Laurie as Haviland?
  • RAR: hmmmmmm...not enough absent minded professor
  • RAR: BUT
  • RAR: How awesome would Laurie as Haviland and Stephen Fry as Dogger be?
  • GD: YESSSSS
  • RAR: We obviously have excellent casting ideas. Sam, give us a call!
Detective-tastic approved.

Detective-tastic approved.

(Source: bleeriosarchive, via laurennlovve)

Dear Rachel, 

Don’t worry. I completely understand getting caught up in one of your passions when you should be doing something else. I am currently entangled with Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway when I should be preparing for the return of classes. It is a lovely position to be in. Just lovely. And also horrible.

AHEM.

BACK TO MARY. 

The thing I admire most about Mary and Sherlock is their ability to fully commit to the physical aspect of their invented job as well as the intellectual aspect. The search for the right spot in the underground tunnels of Jerusalem is the part of the book that stuck the most firmly in my memory between readings, and I think part of the reason is because I don’t think I could do that bit. Mary was utterly exhausted from her day job as a dirt-hauler, followed by a quick-change into a tartly dressed young society flirt, and a planning session with Mahmoud and Ali into the night, and yet she managed to do everything Sherlock did, and then some! Going through underground tunnels and ponds and crawl-spaces and avoiding holes and all that with only one lamp at a time and a handful of dates to nourish you?! I don’t think I could hack it. 

My favorite bit about the banging on door to ferret out the traitor scene was how chameleon-like Mary is. She was in her Arabic youth gear, covered in sweat and dust and Lord knows what else, but still manages to charm an Englishman, who had previously seen her in party dress, with just the right words to keep him calm and still elicit his help. 

As far as your remarks about the sexual tension building, well, I have a confession to make. Significant age differences in romantic relationships rather give me the heebie-jeebies. I can acknowledge that these two characters are well suited for one another, but the idea of them being romantically attached is too much for my personal notions of propriety (if that’s the word I want), so I try to ignore those bits. It does sound, though, that you are very ready for “A Monstrous Regiment of Women.” (May I also recommend "Beekeeping for Beginners", a short story told from Sherlock’s point of view, and set in the early stages of his relationship with Mary.)

One thing that I noticed this go-around was how Sherlock’s recovery from his abduction helped to level the playing field between him and Mary. Remember how Mary had nightmares on the boat on the way back to England (back in book 1) and it came out that she was in the car when her parents were killed and blames herself for it? Sherlock also had nightmares that woke both of them while they were with the Jewish settlers. Now that I think about it, and put the full story together in order, it seems that knowing Sherlock had nightmares after a troubling experience might have made Mary more willing to confide in him about her own. 

Last points:

I wouldn’t put it past King to insert a bit of a political statement into her novels. The next book in this series is, in my opinion, her most feminist work (though she always writes women with depth and dignity), and she has a whole series starring a lesbian detective in modern times. She is not afraid of touchy subjects like gender roles, religion, insanity, and the supernatural. 

I agree with you that Plumbury was rather hastily tied up there at the end. He seems so insubstantial to hardly warrant a place in the plot at all, except to show that even when she is exhausted, Mary’s mind still whirrs right along making connections and testing theories and tying up loose ends. I suspect that was his purpose all along - to allow Mary to shine. 

So. We dust the sands of Palestine off our laps. 

Where to next?

Rachel

squiddishly:

I have a horrible cold, so I spent the weekend in bed, re-reading the Mary Russell novels.  
Sometimes “fans” complain that Russell is disrespectful towards Holmes, and should show proper feminine deference to his superior intellect.  I expect these are the same fans who complain that River Song knows things the Doctor doesn’t, and that Korra can walk and chew gum at the same time.
(Whatever layer style I used for Russell’s glasses?  I REGRET IT HEARTILY.  Because they looked fine when I drew them, and then I flattened the layer and they went transparent!  But I didn’t notice right away, and then it was too late to undo without losing a whole lot of other work.  TL;DR, having an iPad doesn’t magically make you talented.)

OMG, Rachel!

squiddishly:

I have a horrible cold, so I spent the weekend in bed, re-reading the Mary Russell novels.  

Sometimes “fans” complain that Russell is disrespectful towards Holmes, and should show proper feminine deference to his superior intellect.  I expect these are the same fans who complain that River Song knows things the Doctor doesn’t, and that Korra can walk and chew gum at the same time.

(Whatever layer style I used for Russell’s glasses?  I REGRET IT HEARTILY.  Because they looked fine when I drew them, and then I flattened the layer and they went transparent!  But I didn’t notice right away, and then it was too late to undo without losing a whole lot of other work.  TL;DR, having an iPad doesn’t magically make you talented.)

OMG, Rachel!

(Source: agrippina-minor)

Dear Rachel,

Once upon a time, there was a girl. This girl really loved the Olympics. Like, really, seriously LOVED them. And she spent two weeks doing nothing else but watching them on the telly. By the time the Olympics were over, she realized she had forgotten about nearly everything else on her to-do list, including finishing an awesome book she’d started before the games. Do you see where this is going? If you have even an ounce of Mary Russell in you, my guess is that you do.

ANYHOW, the good news is that once I picked up O Jerusalem again, I was so rapt by the story that I just went ahead and finished it in one go. So now I’m brimming with things to discuss. Hooray!

First things first: Holmes’ abduction and Mary’s convalescence in with the Jewish woman and her daughter. It’s curious to me that this portion is really the only bit in the entire book where Mary interacts with Jewish settlers. Obviously, our heroes are pretending to be Muslim nomads, so it makes sense in that context, but I still think it’s an interesting choice on King’s part. Is she making some sort of political statement? Or was it simply how the story needed to unfold? What does it mean that Mary, an Anglo-Jewish girl spends an entire novel parading around as a Muslim boy? I don’t really have the answer, but I find it very intriguing.

Once Holmes is rescued, the book takes an interesting turn. I felt that, from that point on, Mahmoud and Ali suddenly took a back seat to the relationship between Mary and Holmes. They were still ever-present, of course, but they definitely became secondary to the sexual tension building between our English protagonists. The scene where Holmes looks on whilst all of the young English gentleman at the Army affair flirt with his young protege is especially delightful. I would really love to read the three preceding books to figure out how this scene related the the “present-day” relationship between Mary and Holmes.

One thing that really thrilled me was the fact that the villainous saboteur’s name turned out to be Kerim Bey. Why did this excite me so much? Because Kerim Bey is also the name of a James Bond character in From Russia With Love! I have no idea if this was merely coincidental, or if King, in addition to being a Conan Doyle expert, is also an Ian Fleming fan, but either way, I was simply tickled by it.

After reading the book, I spent a good hour or so online watching videos about the underground tunnels of Jerusalem. The imagery King uses to describe them is spot on, I must say, and if I ever go back to Israel, I definitely want to go down there and see the maze for myself. The scene in which Mary returns to the tunnels to bang on the hidden door and ferret out the traitors is remarkably clever.

One complaint overall: I did feel like the ending of O Jerusalem was a tad rushed. There’s such a great build-up towards the final capture of the secret British traitor, and then suddenly, everything is just…over. I don’t know, I guess I expected that part to be fleshed out a little bit more, a la Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I realize that not every villain can be a Moriarty (or Ms. Moriarty), but I do find it more enjoyable when the bad guy gets to expound on his or her motives in a gloating monologue before finally being conquered. Plumbury never got a word in edgewise before he was shot to death, and it disappointed me a little bit.

What’s your take on it all? Am I missing anything on the broader scheme by reading the books out of order?

Available until the 2014 Winter Olympics,

Rachel

P.S. Whenever you post on your personal blog about waiting for the plumber, I think it says Plumbury.

hedgehog-goulash7:

This pretty cottage in East Dean, Sussex, England, purports to be the very place where Sherlock Holmes lived in his retirement, keeping bees.

RACHEL!

hedgehog-goulash7:

This pretty cottage in East Dean, Sussex, England, purports to be the very place where Sherlock Holmes lived in his retirement, keeping bees.

RACHEL!

(via gatsbylives)

Dear Rachel, 
It has come to my attention that Laurie R. King has a cafepress store.
My birthday is this month. 
Just saying, 
Rachel
(via cafepress)

Dear Rachel, 

It has come to my attention that Laurie R. King has a cafepress store.

My birthday is this month. 

Just saying, 

Rachel

(via cafepress)

Dear Rachel, 

Having never seen, read, or otherwise experienced Lawrence of Arabia, I cannot comment on any similarities or differences between that august work and our current endeavor. I’ll add it to my list though. You think I should go with the book or the film?

What I would like to comment on is how multi-faceted people are and how we get to glimpse those facets. You think you know someone, you have him all worked out in your head. And then circumstances throw you into a new context and you discover something new. It has always been there, you just couldn’t see it. 

You think you know Sherlock Holmes. You have him pegged as an authority figure. And in England, he absolutely is. But then you go to Palestine and you watch him submit, within reason, to all sorts of people. 

You think you know Ali. He is hot-headed. He is opinionated. He is blunt. He is thoroughly Bedu. And then you put him in a sitting room with General Allenby and he becomes throughly British, calm, submissive, and professional. 

You think you know Mahmoud. He is a serious man. He is the authority figure of your little band. And yet you watch him take the passenger seat of your investigation and let Holmes take over the questioning. AND you watch him very subtly reveal that he has a sense of humor! (You’re right. That scene was bloody brilliant.)

So. Now that we have been introduced and re-introduced to our cast of characters, the real adventure can begin.

As far as the end of chapter 12, I can tell you that one reason people experience temporary amnesia after a head trauma: The process of memory consolidation is disrupted. It takes time between the event and the formation of a long-term memory. If your brain is jostled too hard, all the signals get confused and disrupted. 

Now, what could have happend to Russell’s brain that could have disrupted her memory consolidation and storage of whatever took place after leaving General Allenby and his luxurious bathtub?

Readying the first-aid kit, 

Rachel

Dear Rachel,
Behold, a most unflattering photograph of yours truly riding a camel in Eretz Yisrael! I look a mess because we had just come from bathing in the Dead Sea, which I found to be a most dreadful experience, as it was hot, sticky, and not unlike swimming in abnormally buoyant salad dressing.
Thankfully, the experience Mary had swimming in the dead sea was much more pleasant than my own. I very much enjoyed the scene where she and Holmes shared a moment of peace in the sea under the stars. It certainly indicates a romantic undertone developing in their relationship, which I very much look forward to reading about in later (or perhaps earlier) novels.
But true love aside, I think what I appreciate most in this section of the book, is King’s subtle homages to Lawrence of Arabia. I don’t mean her mentions of T.E. Lawrence and Allenby, of course, as they are central historical figure whose names could hardly be avoided in these contexts, but rather, the way in which some of King’s scenes brilliantly evoke those of the 1962 classic. The interludes involving the British military bases are so perfectly detailed in line with the film that I feel almost as though the images in my mind were directed by David Lean himself (Also, it’s worth pointing out that both O Jerusalem and Lawrence of Arabia are technically flashbacks).
I’m glad to hear that Ali and Mahmoud feature prominently in further readings, as I am starting to really enjoy their antics. It pleases me greatly that they are slowly starting to accept Mary as an equal. When Mahmoud said to her “Amir, be at peace” after she apologized for asking him about being tortured, I almost teared up a little bit. As Rick said at the end of Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Of course, the very best scene with Mahmoud was when he chose to read the local villagers a passage from The Devil’s Foot. Imagining the disguised, unsuspecting Holmes reacting to hearing his own name being read aloud sent me into a fit of giggles. How clever! I tip my hat to Mahmoud (and King) for that cheeky trick.
Although it was a little vague, it seems to me that Chapter 12 ended on a potential cliffhanger, so I think I’ll dive right back in now to make sure that nothing too sinister has occurred. Although as long as the members of our quartet are in future adventures, I suppose it can’t be anything too horrendous…can it?
From my camel to yours,
Rachel
P.S. Still mulling over your Mycroft question. Will think on it when I know more…

Dear Rachel,

Behold, a most unflattering photograph of yours truly riding a camel in Eretz Yisrael! I look a mess because we had just come from bathing in the Dead Sea, which I found to be a most dreadful experience, as it was hot, sticky, and not unlike swimming in abnormally buoyant salad dressing.

Thankfully, the experience Mary had swimming in the dead sea was much more pleasant than my own. I very much enjoyed the scene where she and Holmes shared a moment of peace in the sea under the stars. It certainly indicates a romantic undertone developing in their relationship, which I very much look forward to reading about in later (or perhaps earlier) novels.

But true love aside, I think what I appreciate most in this section of the book, is King’s subtle homages to Lawrence of Arabia. I don’t mean her mentions of T.E. Lawrence and Allenby, of course, as they are central historical figure whose names could hardly be avoided in these contexts, but rather, the way in which some of King’s scenes brilliantly evoke those of the 1962 classic. The interludes involving the British military bases are so perfectly detailed in line with the film that I feel almost as though the images in my mind were directed by David Lean himself (Also, it’s worth pointing out that both O Jerusalem and Lawrence of Arabia are technically flashbacks).

I’m glad to hear that Ali and Mahmoud feature prominently in further readings, as I am starting to really enjoy their antics. It pleases me greatly that they are slowly starting to accept Mary as an equal. When Mahmoud said to her “Amir, be at peace” after she apologized for asking him about being tortured, I almost teared up a little bit. As Rick said at the end of Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Of course, the very best scene with Mahmoud was when he chose to read the local villagers a passage from The Devil’s Foot. Imagining the disguised, unsuspecting Holmes reacting to hearing his own name being read aloud sent me into a fit of giggles. How clever! I tip my hat to Mahmoud (and King) for that cheeky trick.

Although it was a little vague, it seems to me that Chapter 12 ended on a potential cliffhanger, so I think I’ll dive right back in now to make sure that nothing too sinister has occurred. Although as long as the members of our quartet are in future adventures, I suppose it can’t be anything too horrendous…can it?

From my camel to yours,

Rachel

P.S. Still mulling over your Mycroft question. Will think on it when I know more…

Dear Rachel, 

PLEASE may I see a photo of you in the Holy Land riding a camel? PRETTY PRETTY PLEASE?!

I don’t know any Arabic beyond what is in the glossary in the book, but I would absolutely buy you a kaftan should we ever find ourselves in an open-air Middle Eastern market and it struck your fancy.

I’ve been thinking lately about my habit of re-reading books and re-watching movies. There are MANY (I hesitate to put a number on it, for fear that I won’t make it high enough) excellent books out there that I haven’t read yet. On goodreads.com, my to-read list is approaching triple digits, and if I put some thought into it, I’m sure I could get to 100 this afternoon. Easily. And yet I gladly re-read O Jerusalem with you. The other day, I went to see The Avengers again. In the theater. At full price. Even though the new Spiderman is out and I haven’t seen it yet. Even though I had a couple of Netflix discs at home waiting. I do this all the time.

I went to Avengers with friends who hadn’t seen it yet, and we all had a grand time. At dinner after the movie, someone asked me if I enjoyed it more or less than the first time I saw it. I had to think on that for a minute. I absolutely enjoyed myself both times, but I  realized eventually that it was a different kind of enjoyment. There are no surprises, unless you forget something (like how the Hulk punches Thor that one time out of the blue), some things take on new meaning (like everything that certain people say) because you already know the character’s future, and you start to notice more details. Knowing how each scene, plot line, or even the whole story will turn out frees you up to notice the incidentals. For example, there is one scene in Avengers when Tony and Bruce are having a really brilliant conversation through the fancy see-through computer monitor about how their alter-egos saved them, possibly, and it’s an awesome conversation (Joss Whedon is such a good writer/storyteller and he can have ALL my money). The first time through, I was focused on the conversation. I was intent on catching every word. The second time through, I saw the Hulk’s reflection when you should see Bruce’s. That detail completely escaped my notice the first time around because I had to focus on the Gestalt. Second (and third and fourth) time around gives you a chance to savor the story and unearth the details. And I love it.

The principle applies to our current series as well. Especially since I have read all of Conan Doyle’s original Holmes works between my first time through King’s books and now.  

When Sherlock and Russell are patient with Ali and Mahmoud’s tests and tricks or Joshua’s evasions and dismissals, I am more amazed now than I was the first time around. I know now how impatient they can be with needless delays, and how sarcastic they can be with those who doubt their skills. When Russell and Sherlock have their discussion-without-words moment, and Sherlock calls it “the communication of true minds,” I think forward in their story and Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet pops into my head. When Russel’s thoughts of Mycroft lead her to conclude that he is among the most moral of men, I think oh boy, I may need to re-read the 10th book in the series now. So knowing what will come doesn’t change my opinion of the story (so far) as much as it highlights certain details. And that I absolutely love.

But Ali and Mahmoud themselves! You will see them again, if you continue to read the series, and their book is one of my favorites (but who am I kidding, they’re ALL my favorites!). Your comments and questions on these two in particular have left me scratching my head. You’re right. They are English, possibly brothers, more likely friends, and Sherlock and Mary know it, and they’re smart enough to suspect that Sherlock and Mary know it, yet they stay in character! They retain the opinions and customs of the Bedu (the idea of Mary in boy’s clothes made Ali nearly burst a vessel; Mahmoud’s firm belief that women just DO NOT fight) even when no one is looking but two fellow Englishmen! Talk about method acting!

Wow, this post feels kinda long. I better wrap it up. 

I’m curious to know why you think Mycroft thought the situation was urgent enough to warrant the attention of his illustrious (and more active) brother. Are dead informants enough to imbalance the ledgers in Mycroft’s mind, d’you think?

Until the next campsite, 

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

It’s rather fitting that we’re reading O Jerusalem now, not only because the heat here in Chicago today is so blisteringly unbearable that it puts daylight in the Negev desert to shame, but also because it just so happens that I was actually in the Holy Land exactly five years ago today. Granted, instead of masquerading as a Bedouin traveler, I spent my time there being chauffeured around on an air-conditioned coach bus, so I can’t entirely claim to have a shared experience with Mary and Sherlock, but I think it’s quite a nice coincidence nonetheless.

Speaking of Mary and Sherlock, I’m very happy to have them back in my life. Our foray into Scottish Noir had its charms, and I may return to the world of John Rebus someday, but for now, I’m quite happy being reacquainted with our old friends from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Laurie R. King has many strengths as an author, but I daresay that her ability to create a sense of intimacy between the character and the reader is perhaps her finest. O Jerusalem may technically be the fifth book in the Mary Russell series, but thus far, it still reads as smartly as the first. 

The onset of O Jerusalem was perhaps a bit slower than its aforementioned predecessor, but since the story still maintained a solid sense of purpose, I wasn’t bothered much by the more languid pace, and now that I’ve just finished Chapter 5, I think it’s probably safe to assume that the tempo will only get speedier from here.

I think, above all else, that I am most intrigued now by Ali and Mahmoud, Mary and Sherlock’s mysterious guides, who are possibly Arabic, but more likely English, and possibly brothers, but more likely friends. Who exactly are these curious men, and why do they feel the need to carry on their likely charade in front of our heroes when it’s already been revealed that they’re spies for the British command? I’m looking forward to finding out. 

How is the read coming along for you? When we read Beekeeper’s Apprentice, you declared that it was just as delightful the second time around as it had been the first. Are you feeling the same way about O Jerusalem? And does knowing what comes between the two books now change your opinion of the story in any way? Also, how’s your Arabic? And will you buy me a kaftan in an open air Middle Eastern market if I stare at it longingly for a spell? I eagerly await your answers.

Salam aleikum,

Rachel

P.S. If you ask nicely, I might be willing to show you a photograph of yours truly in the Holy Land riding a camel.

Dear Rachel, 
Since we’re both done with Scottish Noir, it is time to move onto our next book. And I am very glad that we will be returning to everyone’s favorite Jewish genius, Mary Russell. 
O Jerusalem is the story of what happened to Russell and Holmes during the excursus of their first grand adventure together. This book takes place entirely within the story of the first book of the Russell series, but was written fifth in the series. The friend who excitedly introduced me to Mary Russell advised that I read O Jerusalem second and I’m very glad she did. The continuity of young, relatively inexperienced Russell all together at the beginning feels right to me.
As you noted before, their journey to Palestine was quite leisurely and provided a way for the author to flesh out Mary’s character. The time they spend in Palestine, however, is anything but leisurely. Back-breaking labor, learning a completely different culture and language, long journeys, dangerous opponents, extreme anxiety, distrust from their fellow-travelers, and little sleep await Russell and Holmes when they make their middle-of-the-night landing in Palestine.
The whole thing, though is necessary. This work helps to shape and hone a still very young Russell and prepare her for partnership with Holmes. Russell survived, and was rejuvenated by Palestine, and thus, was able to complete the task that waited for them at home. 
Also, the book introduces some characters that we will see again in book six, which is quite good.
Russell, being Jewish (as you are), and Holmes, being…apathetic? agnostic? do have very different reactions to the venue of this adventure, and the contrast provides some light moments, if memory serves. All in all, I am very interested in what you will think of King’s coverage of the Holy Land. The stakes feel kind of high to me. 
Maalesh, if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. 
Rachel
p.s. A link to the book on Amazon is provided for those of you who want to read along at home. 

Dear Rachel, 

Since we’re both done with Scottish Noir, it is time to move onto our next book. And I am very glad that we will be returning to everyone’s favorite Jewish genius, Mary Russell. 

O Jerusalem is the story of what happened to Russell and Holmes during the excursus of their first grand adventure together. This book takes place entirely within the story of the first book of the Russell series, but was written fifth in the series. The friend who excitedly introduced me to Mary Russell advised that I read O Jerusalem second and I’m very glad she did. The continuity of young, relatively inexperienced Russell all together at the beginning feels right to me.

As you noted before, their journey to Palestine was quite leisurely and provided a way for the author to flesh out Mary’s character. The time they spend in Palestine, however, is anything but leisurely. Back-breaking labor, learning a completely different culture and language, long journeys, dangerous opponents, extreme anxiety, distrust from their fellow-travelers, and little sleep await Russell and Holmes when they make their middle-of-the-night landing in Palestine.

The whole thing, though is necessary. This work helps to shape and hone a still very young Russell and prepare her for partnership with Holmes. Russell survived, and was rejuvenated by Palestine, and thus, was able to complete the task that waited for them at home. 

Also, the book introduces some characters that we will see again in book six, which is quite good.

Russell, being Jewish (as you are), and Holmes, being…apathetic? agnostic? do have very different reactions to the venue of this adventure, and the contrast provides some light moments, if memory serves. All in all, I am very interested in what you will think of King’s coverage of the Holy Land. The stakes feel kind of high to me. 

Maalesh, if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. 

Rachel

p.s. A link to the book on Amazon is provided for those of you who want to read along at home.