King’s first book about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes was The Beekeeper’s Apprentice which I finally read, despite my misgivings. I’ve come to dislike stories that use real people as characters or characters created by other authors. It doesn’t seem fair somehow, even if they are out of copyright.
Milan Kundera’s book Immortality made me think about public images and how little control one has over how one is remembered. More than just celebrities haunted by paparazzi and grotesque tabloid stories: even those who have chosen private lives may be affected. It is terrifyingly easy for a rejected lover or malicious sibling to spread false stories about a person and change the way that person is perceived by others.
And of course, the internet increases the range of the problem. Consider the dog poop girl, a young woman on the subway in South Korea who refused to clean up the mess her dog made and was rude to people around her who asked her to do so. A bystander snapped her picture and posted it on the internet. Others quickly tracked down her personal information and shared it on the network, shaming her family, forcing her to drop out of school, and causing her to be known for the rest of her life as the dog poop girl—surely a disproportionate punishment for her rude behavior. Daniel J. Solove’s The Future of Reputation explores this story and others like it, raising ethical issues about privacy in an age of internet vigilantism.
Well, I’ve wandered from Mary Russell, but these concerns have kept me away from such books. However, rave reviews from people whose opinions I trust finally sent me to the first book in the series. While I found it absorbing and well-written, I winced every time Holmes’s name was mentioned, which somewhat interrupted the flow of the story, and I decided not to read any more in the series.
But I have. Mog asked me to return this book to the library for her, and there it sat, saying Read me . . . Read me . . . until I finally gave in. Again, absorbing and well-written. Again, the wincing, though perhaps a little less because Russell and Holmes operate independently during long stretches of the book. Here, on their way back to England from India, they decide to stop in San Francisco to enable Russell to deal with her inheritance. Her intention is to sell the properties that have languished since the tragic death of her parents ten years previously.
As they near port, however, Russell experiences three different recurring dreams, disturbing dreams of flying objects and faceless men, causing Holmes to wonder if they could be related to the death of Russell’s parents and the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, although Russell maintains that she and her family were living in England at that time. Holmes and Russell's separate and mutual investigations probe issues of memory and identity, of the role that places and possessions play in anchoring our sense of self and providing the continuity we expect to find in our personalities.
Several recent books have looked at the effect of learning you were mistaken about some critical event in your past: Atonement by MacEwan, The Sea by John Banville. Understanding and correctly interpreting your past seems to be a task of middle age: looking backward in order to determine the best way forward. I keep getting distracted, but I meant to say that King is an excellent writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Except for the wincing.