Mary Russell’s War (twenty-one): the cold of Boston

22 December 1914

Boston is cold. I have not seen snow for years, but here it covers the rooftops, muffles the sounds, clots the shoes of the walker. The cold penetrates the houses, so that despite the festivities of the season, regardless of the cooking smells and shiny ornaments and tentative but growing collection of wrapped gifts, my grandparents remain formal, distant

But that is not entirely fair. They too have lost family, and when I stand before them, a troublesome girl who is their son’s only survivor, it must be painful. It is certainly uncomfortable. And so where another would extend arms and embrace me, these two are polite and uncertain.

Not that I wish to be embraced. I am not a child, and giving myself over to a warm hug might melt my resolve: to be away from here by the new year. To be heading across an ocean for home.

The small section of The Valley of Fear contained in the Strand magazine that I waited in San Francisco for was hardly adequate to keep me entertained as I crossed this vast nation. In it, Dr Watson comes across a laughing new widow, then finds Mr Holmes most cheerful and “débonnaire” over breakfast, and submits to a lengthy diatribe concerning the murder case (much of which is, to my mind, rather dubious—although it was good to see that we were in agreement at last, when he says to Watson that, were he, Holmes, ever to marry, he hoped that he would inspire a feeling in his wife that would prevent her from being so easily escorted away from his dead body. I had seen that oddity at my first read of the opening scenes!) But none of these are what truly caught at my imagination. Instead, my eye kept travelling back to the brief line that described the location where this took place: sitting in the ingle-nook of an old village inn.

Such an evocative phrase! Not that I, a minor and a female one at that, would be permitted to settle into such a portion of an inn. (Unless I were dressed as a man, that is. It occurred to me, as I struggled to arrange my hair on top of my head on a shifting train, so as to give myself the greater appearance of maturity and avoid those conversations that start with the question of where my parents were, that if I were to hide the length of it under an oversized cap, few would tell it was there at all. However, I would still look like a boy and not a man, and no innkeeper would serve me in his ingle-nook. However, in a few years, I shall have to try it.)

That ingle-nook calls to me, as I sit here in my frigid Boston bedroom with the snow whispering down my window. It gives me a point to lock on to, pulling me back to my mother’s home. No doubt my father sat in similar ingle-nooks, in one or another Sussex village. Not London: Sussex is my home. Yes.

There was another portion of that Strand episode that made me even more grateful than the ingle-nook’s evocation of home: humour.

I laughed—yes, laughed out loud, in my snug quarters on the rattling train, for the first time since the first week of October—when I read the portion where Holmes returns late at night to the inn’s room he and Watson are sharing, and—no, I shall copy the passage directly, allowing me to chuckle again whenever I come across this:

He stood beside me in silence, his candle in his hand. Then the tall lean figure inclined towards me.

‘I say, Watson,’ he whispered, ‘would you be afraid to sleep in the same room as a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?’

‘Not in the least,’ I answered in astonishment.

‘Ah, that’s lucky,’ he said, and not another word would he utter that night.

*  *

Follow Mary Russell’s War, here.

Read The Valley of Fear, here.

Saving the day

I was in my local Bookshop Santa Cruz the other day when the owner came up to me to say, Thank you, for saving our day.  Seems that last Thursday when I went in to sign their copies of “Mary’s Christmas”cover8was the day that Stormageddon descended on Northern California, and hanging around book stores was pretty far down the to-do list of most Santa Cruzians: the store was populated by the staff, and me.  Which meant that their day’s take would have been illustrated by a really deep hole, except for you guys.  All of you who ordered a copy of this pricey little paperback for me to sign?  They filled the order that day, and your dollars saved them from a very ugly little blip to worry their accountant.  So, she thanked me.

And I, in turn, thank you.  For supporting my local bookstore, on a day when it made a lot of difference to them, and to me.

I’m going by there today to sign another stack, feel free to order if you like, from Bookshop or (especially if you’re outside the US) from the Poisoned Pen.


Mary Russell’s War (twenty: parting’s eve)

14 December 1914

My commitment to writing a journal entry on the weekly anniversary of the start of War (which began on a Tuesday) is being put aside this week, for it looks as if my usual writing time tomorrow will be taken up with other things. That is because today—a Monday—my issue of the December Strand arrived. I can now leave on the next train east.

I do not, in fact, know why I so badly wanted to wait for this magazine. It is something to read on the train, yes, but more than that, it feels like a last, and rapidly dwindling, series of gifts from my mother. Silly, but true. In any event, I have written to their subscriptions department to inform them of my change of address—giving them the address of the London house for future issues, until matters have been arranged. And if the letter goes down on its Atlantic passage, or is lost in the chaos of wartime London, so be it: I can always buy a replacement copy, once in England.

My grandmother is not yet aware that my time in Boston will be so brief. I find that I am looking forward to this cross-country voyage as a respite from turmoil: on the train, no one will know who I am, what I represent, where I am going. My fellow passengers will no nothing but what I choose to tell them. If I put my hair up, I will even look like a woman rather than a girl. I could make up any sort of identity, and none of the other travellers would be any the wiser.

I shall spend this afternoon with Dr Ginsberg—but not for one of her hypnosis sessions (which, by the way, have not been terribly successful. Rather than restore my memories of the accident, as I had hoped, hypnosis seems to have made them even more distant. Nonetheless, the attempt alone seems to have restored a degree of contentment to my mind. So much so, I wondered briefly whether I should ask the good Doctor if she has manipulated my emotions, implanting a suggestion of happiness…? But I decided that even if that is so, perhaps I do not need to know it, quite yet. I can always write and ask her, later on.) Rather, today is time for our social farewell. She has become my family here (gently, unobtrusively—in comparison with the rather pushy attempts by my friend Flo’s mother!) and I shall, frankly, miss her. I have a gift for her, wrapped in green paper although she does not celebrate Christmas: a small bird sculpture, to go in her collection and perhaps keep company with Mother’s canary.

In the meantime, my big trunk has been locked and taken over to the station. Tickets are purchased, my new clothing is ready to go, my rooms in this temporary home cleared of possessions. I anticipate another argument over the need of a nurse to accompany me—one of many coming arguments over which I shall prevail, through logic and an icy, calm stubbornness.

Another thing I shall miss is the San Francisco Chronicle, with its blend of news and nonsense, petty local concerns beside earth-shaking events. I doubt I will find the London papers so blithely willing to forget War.


Giant Armed Air Craft to Make Attack on England Soon, Is Report



Many Soldiers Go Mad During Terrific Battles and Suffer Torture.




18 and 15 year old daughters coolly faced the revolvers and practically “shooed” them from the house.

In the Faulklands, the cruiser that visited my War Journal back in the summer has finally met her match:


German Cruiser Nuernberg Caught and Destroyed by British Warships, and Dresden is Cornered in Magellan.

And in a move of pseudo-sympathy I cannot but feel is typical of those with no stake in the matter:


Declares it Would Be Immoral to Stop Fighting and Then Begin it Again

My British face

I just received the UK cover for Dreaming Spies:


What do you think? Allison & Busby have done me some gorgeous covers over the years, take a look at them all, here.

Same date as the US edition, by the way, February 17.

Mary’s Christmas, in time for Christmas


So, I fought my way through storm and flood and fallen branches (yeah, it is indeed raining here in drought-land, and raining hard—really hard) risking life and limb and wet shoes JUST FOR YOU, making my way to Bookshop Santa Cruz (and back) where I signed a stack of the now-in-print short story,  “Mary’s Christmas”

photo copy

that they just got in from the printers. If you haven’t already, you can order one of these signed babies (they really are cute) from Bookshop, here, or from Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale (where they should arrive next week) here.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of a very young Miss Russell, her varied skills, and a previously unknown (to us) character in her life, Uncle Jake.

(And yes, there are print copies of that other cover, Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes for sale as well: here.)

(Hey! I managed to get this posted before the power went ou