Island of the Mad (Mary Russell, Book 15)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Island of the Mad (Mary Russell, Book 15)
Laurie R. King, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Sequel to The Murder of Mary Russell. Russell and Holmes are off again, this time in search of a friend's aunt who may have run from an asylum.

This series continues to merely limp along, and yet, I can't quite walk away. At least this entry didn't have the problem that many of the recent books have shared (namely, that Russell wasn't the main character). It just has other problems.

The bones of the story and the characters are good. Reintroducing Mary's friend Ronnie and her extended clan works well, and most of the early investigation about the whereabouts of the aunt is interesting. However, there's a huge digression early on which strained the bounds of my credulity too far. Russell does something quite dumb and dangerous to go undercover to get information which she could plausibly have obtained any number of more legitimate ways.

It felt like half an excuse for unnecessary tension and half an excuse to infodump about a topic researched for the book so that the research wouldn't go to waste. I found the whole section annoying and thought it made Russell look either stupid or narcissistic.

Later, Russell and Holmes head to Venice (another thoroughly researched topic): Russell to search for Ronnie's wayward relation, and Holmes to obtain intel about the rise of fascism in Italy for Mycroft. Once there, they mingle with young wealthy folks from across Europe who are there for the beach and the parties and a set of artists and nonconformists surrounding the then up-and-coming Cole Porter. Unless I'm misremembering, this book marks the first openly LGBTQ folks in a series that has featured plenty of cross-dressing disguises.

All this mingling is part of my second major issue with the book (the aforementioned unnecessary undercover mission being the first). It seems as though the author set up an emotional plot for the main characters, and then just forgot to resolve it. Both Russell and Holmes in their respective sections (the narrative perspective switches back and forth) have moments where they make assumptions or are concerned about the other regarding their relationship.

Now, I have to step aside from the fact that all of these moments seem bizarre to me; the characters' worries do not evolve naturally from the previous depictions of their characters, and the moments are heavily flagged and happen more than once. However, then they aren't resolved. It's the most confounding thing. Neither character's concerns are mentioned or dealt with, rather the ending devolves into a complex, farcical scenario that reminded me of the end of an episode of Leverage. I like Leverage, and the complicated ruse is a lot of fun. But afterward, any loose ends are just hand-waved away.

I found it to be a disappointing read overall.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

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