Mary Russell’s War (nine): Gold braid and child snipers

29 September 1914

Catastrophe has struck. It is the end of everything. And I have no one to blame but myself.

On Saturday afternoon, at long last, the Parents took Levi and me into their confidence.   Too late.

The letter Papa received from the War Office concerned his intention to enlist in the American army. We are neutral, yes, but that does not mean the government wish to be unprepared. His ability with languages, his family connexions, and some ill-defined (to us, his family) connexions with the Intelligence community conspire to mean that he could be of considerable value, to this country and to England. Not at the Front—even if his limp would allow him to be sent overseas—but in an office in Washington, DC.

Both he and Mother have known for some time that this was coming: this, it seems, was the cause of their disagreement last month. Her immediate impulse, on War’s declaration, was to go home to England, but his utter conviction and her common sense came together in a decision that England was no place to take a family. Once that agreement was reached, they were merely waiting for certain arrangements to be made before revealing their plans to us.

Bitterly, I now learn that Mother was on the edge of convincing him that San Francisco was the safest place for us: that she, Levi, and I would to remain here, continuing with our schooling and her aeroplane-fundraising, rather than (as he wished) that we retreat to my grandparents’ house in Boston. She was on the edge, I say, until…

My fault. Had I not tried to do my part for the War effort, had I not gone after a German spy, the three of us would be waving Papa off at the train station next week. Instead, we shall all board the train with him. It seems that he cannot trust his fourteen year-old daughter to stay out of trouble. Cannot trust his wife to keep control over said daughter. We shall go to Boston, to that fatuous woman, my grandmother, with her small dogs and her flowery hats and her too-warm house that smells of lavender.

Papa had Micah help haul the trunks from the attic, and Mama has begun to pack them, without knowing for how long. Papa wants to go down the Peninsula to the Lodge on Saturday, to retrieve some things we left there on our July holiday there, and to close it up for the coming months. Even years. I would like to accompany him—would like the whole family to go, since it is a place where we have been happy, and which we may never see again. But Mama says we may not be sufficiently packed up by the week-end, and that we probably won’t have time.

My fault, all of it.

And in Europe, the War continues to sink its teeth into civilisation.

Uniforms of French Officers Good Targets

Expert Declares Disproportionate Loss Due to Too Much Gold Braid

and Lace on Clothes.



Man’s Head Blown Off, Child is Crippled and Damage is Done to Buildings.


A Twelve-year-old boy has been fighting hard in the rifle pits in the public gardens at Belgrade. He is the pet of the full-grown soldiers and lives the same life as they do, and takes his full share of the sniping, as he is a first-class shot.

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And in further news, a Christmas ship full of gifts is being put together for Europe. No one talks any more, of the War being over before then.

LuRKing on the Web

The Laurie R. King web site has dozens of corners and byways that, if you haven’t gone exploring there in a while, you may not have seen.

For example: If Watson were a Woman—not by Laurie King, but by guest author Fred Erisman, who explores an assertion made in 1941 by Rex Stout, that Watson was in fact a woman.  Yes, before Lucy Liu was even born.


As Professor Erisman says:

The Watsonian voice, with all its assumptions and elisions, is so much a part of the Holmes stories that it raises a compelling question: what if Watson were someone else, and, more particularly, what if Watson were a woman?

“If Watson Were a Woman,” nestled in the LRK site, here.

TBT: Aww, isn’t Laurie cute?

“Cute” may not be a word that comes immediately to mind when you think of Laurie R. King.  But Laurie Richardson? On a Throwback Thursday? Oh, why not? LK and dogs

This was taken in 1966, when I was fourteen, about the age of Mary Russell in Monday’s ongoing Mary Russell’s War.  I was living in Saratoga, CA, and remembering the size of the house, it was a good thing the dogs, which belonged to my sister, were only visiting.

Anyone else out there remember a wardrobe entirely out of hand-sewn garments? That used to be the cheaper alternative…

Countdown to Dreaming Spies: galley proofs

The proof, or galley stage of a book is when I receive a stack of printed matter that shows what the book will actually look like. This is always a surprise: Wow, it’s a real book! With margins! And pretty stuff!—since the publisher’s art department loves to contribute their little extras to the reading experience, whether it’s the choice of font, a design for the chapter heads, or the pages that separate the book’s sections.DS page

If you look closely at the picture, you will discover a book in progress. Little marks in the corners indicate where the page will be cut for the hardback, with the target-mark at the sides showing the exact halfway point. A line of words and numbers at the bottom tell you my surname, the13-digit ISBN number (part of which is the publisher designation, Bantam books), that page’s number, and a bunch of in-house code that tells them what book they’re looking at. Over at the right, it tells precisely when this set of proofs was printed off.

The proofs are the last time I will have to change things, so I go over every word to make sure that the audio book doesn’t have peculiar juxtapositions, that I’m not repeating myself, that I’ve explained sufficiently but not too much, that I’ve spelled things right, that I haven’t overlooked a passage I’d meant to take out. And individual words—this time I discovered an overuse of the word interesting. Sigh.DS MS

The way to find these mistakes is not to lay the pages down on a desk and go over them with pen in hand. The way to find them is to read every word, aloud, slowly and with attention. I can only do about 40 pages a day before my voice and my brain begin to wander, but when I do find errors, I often am nervous about correcting them then and there. If I’ve used the word interesting twice in a paragraph and want to change one of them to, say, intriguing, what if I used intriguing a few lines before? Because I’m not sure my tongue will have remembered it, I stick a Post It on the side and, at the end, go over the whole thing a second time with the laptop open, doing a word search to check. There are also Post Its to double-check on whether I’ve made proper use of a planted phrase or clue, whether I’ve sufficiently explained a situation, whether the wording on this section is clear enough, whether…

Which is why, by the time I send the proofs back to my editor after two or three weeks, I NEVER WANT TO READ THE THING EVER AGAIN REALLY NEVER.Dreaming Spies

This explains why readers should never regard those Advanced Reading Editions as the final work: AREs are the proof pages, not the corrected proofs. Not only do you get little oddities like wonky spacing (resulting in the word somemeansofkeepingboredomatbay) and a few places where the typesetter has picked up a word from the wrong row in the copy edit (“devoid of passengers” has become “devoid of indicated”) but you’ll also find irritating things like anachronisms (but “hairdo” sounds so Twenties) and a young woman who sits down in Russell’s kitchen in Oxford and takes off a coat that an earlier scene has established she is not wearing,

Things change, up to the last minute. All to make a smoother read for you guys.

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Dreaming Spies publishes five months from today.  I know it’s early, but if you’re on Goodreads, you can note that you’re looking forward to reading it here; if you’d like to pre-order a copy, you can do that now too, with a signed copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz or The Poisoned Pen, or from Barnes & Noble, or from Amazon,

Mary Russell’s War (eight): the wickedness of dogs

Young Mary Russell’s journal of the Great War, which began on August 4, 1914 continues. Her previous entries are here.

Downtown San Francisco.

Downtown San Francisco.

22 September 1914

Disaster! Calamity! Oh, how I loathe dogs!

Who’d have expected a German spy to have a poodle? Father shouted at me—shouted!—and said that I was fortunate it hadn’t been an Alsatian, which might have taken off my leg. Mother—well, Mother went silent, and sits in her morning room, white with fury.

It took me four afternoons of following men leaving the Consulate before I located a likely suspect for being a spy, based on the relative affluence of the home, the lack of signs of having a family, and the way he left his street-side curtains shut even during the day. Only because it has been warm was the transom window over Herr Schmidt’s (there was another reason for suspicion: are people actually named Smith or Jones?) front door left unlatched, although as access to the man’s secrets and valuables, that window would have been inadequate for even a medium-sized burglar. For someone of my girth, however, I did not anticipate any problem. With Levi’s assistance, I dressed in black trousers and dark shirt, and left the house as soon as the parents were abed.

The poodle caught me standing at the desk of Herr “Schmidt”. The man himself caught my ankle as I pulled myself up to the door, and had it not been for the brutish application of force, and the presence of a butler, I might have succeeded in kicking myself free. The police were called, my parents roused from their beds, and…I doubt I shall ever rid myself of those memories, so I shall not dwell on them here in this written account. Suffice to say, I am condemned to my house, and my war work, for the time, is over. A recent issue of the Chronicle informed its readers that the Prince of Wales will not be permitted to fight, either, I suppose for fear of the consequences should he be taken prisoner. Never did I suspect that I should have anything in common with the next King of England.

I may give up reading the news entirely, for it seems to alternate between joyous declarations that the Allies are pushing the Kaiser back, fearful warnings that the German army is on the point of overrunning key English and French positions, and blithe promises that the Kaiser is on the point of agreeing to talk over peace terms. And as to the regular reports of extreme behaviour on the part of the Kaiser’s soldiers, an American Writer who visited the Front says otherwise:


Worst Behavior of German Soldiers in Belgium Was Kissing of Pretty Girls

…In less than twenty-four hours the Belgian citizens were chatting comfortably with the German invaders, and the allegation of German brutality and demonical torture dissolved into one of the myths which have accompanied all wars.

Clearly, one cannot trust the newspapers. When, that is, one can find them. Papa has taken to burning the news once he has read it (forcing me to borrow those of old Mrs Adderley down the street, one of the few places I am permitted outside of the house, after my plea of my company being necessary to the welfare of the poor old woman—who in fact is neither poor nor lonely, having a house full of servants and more friends than I do.)

Mama, when she can bear to address me directly, has begun urging me to discuss it all with her friend Dr Ginzberg.

But really, what is there to say to a mind-doctor? It is not I who has gone mad, but the world.