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A Comic Interlude: Pirate King by Laurie R. King

Eleventh in Laurie R. King‘s imagined memoirs of Mary Russell — who is usually found investigating crimes related to national or international political intrigue, along with the retired Sherlock Holmes — Pirate King is a romp through Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta Pirates of Penzance and the early British silent film industry, and, so, is correspondingly lighter in tone than the earlier books in the series. So, if you’re a reader of serious literature only who doesn’t appreciate levity, doesn’t have time for frivolous pleasures, and who CAN’T TAKE A JOKE, FOR PETE’S SAKE, (Just kidding!) you can skip over Pirate King and wait for the next book in the series.
There has always been humor in the Mary Russell series (starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) especially in the playfully competitive relationship between Russell and Holmes (as they call each other.) Mary Russell is even on Twitter (@mary_russell). But here the author plays around more than usual with the idea that this is a fictional memoir about the fictional narrator’s life with Sherlock Holmes, a fictional character who, in the memoir, is actually a real person who bemoans the fact that he is thought to be fictional. In Pirate King, a film called Pirate King is being shot with a group of actors playing a group of actors who are filming a movie called Pirate King about The Pirates of Penzance, so Pirate King is a book about a memoir about a movie within a movie, with life imitating art, etc.
Well acquainted with disguise and artifice herself, Russell infiltrates the group of prima donnas, stage mothers, and professional actors as the assistant to the general manager of Fflytte Films. Fflytte Films is known for filming realistic films on location, and for realism’s sake, they set sail for Lisbon to find swarthy actors to play the piratical parts in the movie. Russell warns readers at the start that this escapade is so far-fetched as to be unbelievable. She begins with a playbill listing the cast of characters and inserts screen shots of random silent movie-style commentary such as “Where is Daniel?” and “Also the previous Monday…” throughout the book.
If you think that having Sherlock Holmes acquire at an advanced age a young, myopic, Oxford-educated bluestocking apprentice — who speaks multiple languages, is expert with a knife, and whose tongue is as sharp as the knife she keeps in her boot — is messing around too much with the Sherlock Holmes canon, then this series is probably not for you. But if you like novels with strong, smart characters, interesting plots, and some historical and intellectual underpinnings (and you don’t mind the idea of Sherlock Holmes meeting his female match) you should give this series a try.

Other opinions on Pirate King:
Jen’s Book Thoughts
Nonsuch Book
A Striped Armchair

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