Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Pirate King by Laurie R. King

Pirate King
Author: Laurie R. King
Publication: Bantam; First American Edition edition (September 6, 2011)

Description: In this latest adventure featuring the intrepid Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King takes readers into the frenetic world of silent films—where the pirates are real and the shooting isn’t all done with cameras.
In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance,the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.

Pirate King is a Laurie King treasure chest—thrilling, intelligent, romantic, a swiftly unreeling masterpiece of suspense.

My Thoughts: This was an engaging episode of the long-running Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series that began with The Beekeeper's Apprentice in 1994 and continues in this eleventh story. This is a lighter episode than the previous one. Mary is asked by Inspector Lestrade to go undercover with a company making a pirate movie to discover the fate of a missing secretary. The film crew also seems to be followed by crimes that mirror the plots of the films - drugs, illegal arms sales, and rum running. Her immediate response is to refuse but then she recalls that Holmes' brother Mycroft is coming to stay at their home for two weeks. Suddenly, pirates and movie crews are much more appealing.

Mary is quickly immersed in all the drama that surrounded the early days of silent film. She must deal with an extremely flamboyant director who is obsessed with realism, a bevy of demanding blonde actresses (and a few stage mothers), and pirates. The plot of the film is that a movie is being made of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. This leads to a lot of confusion as we have actors playing double roles as a character in The Pirates of Penzance and in the cast making the movie. Determined as he is on realism, Randolph St. John Warminster-Fflytte determines that the film will be shot in Portugal and Morocco. While many of the principal actors have been cast in England, including thirteen young ladies, Fflytte waited until he reached Portugal to cast his pirates. The Portuguese interpreter leads him to La Rocha and his crew of shady figures. 

This was a very entertaining story that also gives a glimpse of the early days of film-making. I liked Mary's interaction with the various actresses. I liked that she began investigating one crime but soon found herself involved in something more complex and more dangerous. My only regret was that Sherlock Holmes made a late appearance in the story and we didn't get to see as much of him as in earlier episodes. Those scenes with Sherlock and Mary were still wonderful glimpses of their marriage of equals. 

I recommend this book for fans of the series but do recommend that new readers wait to read this one until after they have caught up on the series. This one is for fans of historical, literary mysteries. 

Favorite Quote:
A hand came down on my shoulder, and I screamed. Like any mindless female who has permitted herself to become oblivious of a world of danger, I squeaked and punched hard at the large, silent, threatening figure who had taken advantage of my idiotic preoccupation with beauty to corner me on the deck.

My arm is strong. Had there been three steps of distance to the bulwarks, my assailant might have recovered. There were but two. The man staggered away, arms outstretched, and the back of his legs hit the side. One hand clawed at the worn wood but his centre of balance was compromised, and over he went. Calling my surname as he fell.

I leapt forward, and grabbed the ropes, staring back helplessly at the splashing figure who dropped farther and farther behind us in the featureless sea.

I bought this one. You can get your copy here. It is available in paperback and as an ebook too.


  1. I have always been interested in this series, but have not started it yet. Good to know the series is strong even after book 11. Great review. Thanks!

  2. I picked this on up after missing out on some of the earlier books and it was so nice. I really appreciated the lighter tone and the focus on Mary rather than Sherlock although I did miss him.


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