O Jerusalem is a magnificent addition to the Mary Russell series written by the acclaimed author Laurie R. King. This book, a companion to Ms. King's immanently successful The Beekeeper's Apprentice, continues the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and his young, female partner Mary Russell. Filling in a rather large gap in Apprentice, O Jerusalem relates the adventures the duo faced in their brief sojourn to Jerusalem immediately after World War I. This wonderfully written tale is a must-read for all lovers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes.
The novel opens where the original book left off; Holmes and Russell are debarking the steam ship used to transport them to the Holy Land. Hanging over the main characters' (and readers') heads is the mysterious murderer in London that has forced their temporary flight to Palestine. However, rather than dwelling on the past book, Ms. King manages to move the plot away from the detectives' reasons for coming to the Holy Land. The reader is instead quickly drawn into an engrossing new tale of intrigue with the aid of two Arab agents for the British government: Mahmoud and Ali.
Together, the newly formed quartet work to uncover a plot by the Turkish government to reclaim the country they lost in the "Great War." With the aid of the mysterious spymaster Joshua, Holmes and Russell discover a plan to kill the top Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders of the country along with General Allenby, the British governor of the newly conquered region. In their attempt to save the country from total chaos, the partners and their guides engage in a mad chase throughout Palestine. In the process, they manage to visit all the main historical, religious, and cultural sites in the area, from a stay with a group of Bedouin herders to the inspection of an ancient monastery to a soujourn inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Finally, the group is drawn into the heart of the Holy Land itself: Jerusalem. The Seat of three major religions, the city already abounds with danger, and, as the clock ticks down it seems as if the famed Sherlock Holmes may finally have met his match and that the doom of the Middle East is at hand.
This book is one of the treasures of my personal library. The amazing lexicon Ms. King possesses is woven into an incredibly descriptive, insightful tapestry of words. The word choice and usage that Ms. King employs is alone worth the book's $6.99 (US); it's refreshing to see someone who uses the English language to the full extent that it was meant to be used. Besides Ms. King's obvious mastery over the written word, this book also provides an intriguing mystery for the reader. He/she is left guessing to the end and it is unclear whether the traditional triumph of good over evil found in most books will occur in this one. Action scenes also abound in the text, with Ms. King providing an incredibly exciting, though not unnecessarily bloody, series of death-defying escapes, car bombings, and chases through the crowded marketplaces of Jerusalem. The chance to "see" the land that is holy to billions of people in the world is another aspect that makes this book a worthwhile read.
Out of all of these reasons, however, it is Ms. King's use of a female main character that makes this book what it is. "Resurrecting" the mythic Sherlock Holmes is difficult enough, but having his partner be a young woman would seem impossible. However, Ms. King surmounts this seemingly insurmountable task, addressing the issue of a woman's place in society in a thoughtful manner. Russell also provides a unique perspective on events, wholly different from the one provided by Dr. Watson. Instead of a mere male admirer retelling the tale, an equal female partner "tells" the readers her version of events. It's been said by some that Laurie R. King writes a better Sherlock Holmes than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. This book proves that, if she is not completely the equal of Sir Doyle, she can come extraordinarily close. It is truly a blessing to the Holmes fandom that an author such as Laurie R. King has revived Holmes and placed him in a new series of adventurers; not the least of which is the one told in O Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem is copyright 1999 by Laurie R. King
note: To understand this book, please read The Beekeeper's Apprentice first.