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Book Report: The Game

Somewhere in the last few weeks I reread The Game. I remembered bits of it, and didn’t remember other bits. What came to the front of my attention, this time, is that Laurie R. King depicts Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell as spies, rather than detectives. They don’t deduce much of anything. They infiltrate. Russell infiltrates the house, and Holmes infiltrates the prison, and the two of them find out what needs to be found out.

I suppose there is a small amount of deduction, in that they surmise the rajah’s plan to bring the Soviet Army through the pass is part of a bigger plan to then double-cross the Soviets, make himself a hero to the English, and take control over all of India. It’s a crazy plan, but the rajah is crazy, so that’s all right. The thing is that it’s also a crazy deduction, and it’s also entirely unnecessary as a deduction. Deducing that doesn’t assist them at all in the eventual capture of the rajah, nor would it show up in whatever trial the English presumably eventually give him. No, what they do is the infiltrate his fort, find out he’s (a) holding Kim from Kim prisoner, and (2) got lots of airplanes and explosives, and then they kidnap him and bring him to Simlah or Delhi or somewhere the English can take over. That’s it.

I think that’s what makes (for me) this series of Holmes stories work, where often I find that modern stories about Sherlock Holmes don’t. Ms. King is not attempting to write more stories just like the ones Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. She is not attempting to match those stories in style, character, sensibility or genre. She is taking a handful of recognizable things and making something different with them. Her Holmes is not anybody else’s Holmes. Making the man Holmes does a couple of things: it provides a path into the book with the comfort of the familiar, because even if it’s just through references to references to references, everybody in our culture is familiar with Sherlock Holmes; and it prepares us to buy into his ability to disguise himself impenetrably, to speak eighty languages like a native or sometimes like two different natives from different towns, to perform slight-of-hand, to perform feats of physical agility beyond expectation, to have bolt-holes and connections in palaces and slums, and to generally be superhuman altogether. In a series of adventure novels like these, having such a character is a good thing, but introducing on is hard. That’s the lovely trick Ms. King plays.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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