I’ve very much enjoyed Laurie R King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series over the years, so I was happy to receive an advance review copy of the latest title in the series, Castle Shade. It’s set in Roumania (modern Romania) in the 1920s, while political and territorial currents are still swirling in the aftermath of World War I. Queen Marie is an immensely popular monarch, perhaps even more popular with the Roumanian people than her husband, the King, even though she’s not Roumanian by birth. She’s actually half British and half Russian – and quite exalted halves at that: a granddaughter of Queen Victoria’s on her father’s side, and also a granddaughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia through her mother. Having earned her subjects’ loyalty, though, both due to her nursing efforts during WWI, and also her astute politicking at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the war (which significantly increased Roumania’s size), she has now been given a dilapidated castle, Castle Bran, for her own, and she’s busy bringing it back to life.
But it appears that she’s not universally popular with everyone. Marie has received a threat – although the threat is actually against her youngest daughter, the Princess Ileana. Does the threat have to do with some of the odd things that have been happening in Castle Bran’s local village? Are the villagers really having problems with witches and vampires? Or is something more prosaic going on? With political tensions still high, Queen Marie has asked Holmes and Russell to sort things out, and the British government is happy for them to comply.
I really liked Castle Shade, which is just the mix of fun plot and wonderful historical background that I love. And although the book’s blurb tries to point readers towards the spooky side of things (perhaps due to the current trend for paranormal mysteries), I was much more fascinated by Marie and Ileana. So much so, in fact, that I took time after finishing the book to read up on some of the actual history that underpins King’s novel. I was fascinated to find out that Ileana, after two marriages, entered an Orthodox monastery in France, and then moved to the United States to found her own Orthodox community, in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, where she remained until her death. It truly is a small world! And, it turns out that she’s buried there as well, so if I ever get to Ellwood City, I’ll have to visit her grave. But I digress…
To get back on track, Castle Shade is a treat from start to finish, and if you like historical mysteries, or Sherlock Holmes pastiches, or both, it should be on your “read” list. And my thanks to Bantam Books and NetGalley for the review copy!