In which Miss Mary Russell—Oxford theologian, sleuth extraordinaire, partner and wife of Sherlock Holmes—interviews Laurie R. King, Berkeley theologian and mystery writer.
MR: Good morning, my dear. Care for some tea? No? Suit yourself. Now, I’m not quite certain I grasp the point of this exercise. They wish me to put questions to you?
LRK: Right. You ask, I answer.
MR: And people find interest in this informal viva voce? Extraordinary. I should have thought my answers would prove more absorbing than yours, all things considered. My life, after all, has been a full one, whereas yours…
LRK: Miss Russell, please, could we just get on with the format?
MR: As you wish. I hardly need ask about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and its sequels: I did, after all, write them: meeting Holmes in 1915 and becoming his student, partner, and finally wife, all our little adventures in England and Palestine and—
LRK: Little adventures? You nearly died, Holmes was abducted, international incidents were narrowly averted, lives saved. The Conan Doyle stories pale in comparison.
MR: True; as a partner, I stimulated Holmes mind rather more than Dr Watson did. It was even, at times, something of a challenge for Holmes to keep up with me. But to return to this interview: I understand you write novels as well as edit my manuscripts.
LRK: I do, yes. Mysteries, for the most part—I do a series about a San Francisco cop, as well as three stand-alone suspense novels.
MR: This ‘cop’, as you call him—
LRK: Her. The cop in A Grave Talent and the rest is a woman. Kate Martinelli.
MR: You don’t say? We tried women constables during the Great War, but unfortunately their numbers rather diminished once the men returned from the trenches. You find a woman constabulary serviceable, though?
LRK: It’s not a separate force, they’re in with the men. But yes, women are as good as men, whether it’s as a street patrol officer or, as with Martinelli, in investigations.
MR: One might argue that women are rather, er, taken advantage of…
LRK: If you mean by the bad guys, that’s why all cops carry guns—they’re a great equalizer. And if you mean taken advantage of in the relationship sense, well, that doesn’t enter into it as much with Martinelli, because she’s gay and her partner’s a man. Um, you understand the word ‘gay’? as in lesbian?
MR: ‘Gay’—a charming figure of speech. Yes, I can see that might be an advantage, in a man’s world such as the police. What about the other books, your ‘suspense novels’?
LRK: A Darker Place is about a professor of religion—again, a woman—who investigates so-called ‘cults’ for the FBI; Folly concerns a women who retreats to an island in the Pacific Northwest to rebuild a house—one that was originally built by a soldier returned from the First World War, in fact. And most recent was Keeping Watch, in which the veteran of another war, Vietnam, rescues endangered children.
MR: A ‘professor of religion’—do you have an interest in religion, yourself?
LRK: I did an MA in Old Testament theology—storytelling at its most basic—especialli its feminine aspects, and was later given an honorary doctorate by my seminary.
MR: And you now write novels? Still, it must add a certain depth to your stories.
LRK: I think so, yes. But then, one joy of mysteries is that you can weave all kinds of interests and abilities into them—house building, child rearing, life in Papua New Guinea, Greek verbs, holy fools, trench warfare, the hills of north India….
MR: My, how…piquant. But this raises a question: How do you keep people from confusing the works that concern Holmes and me with the novels you also write?
LRK: Er, well. I can’t exactly say that I do.
MR: (Her voice going icy.) You ‘can’t say..’? Am I to understand that the manuscripts I sent you—my personal memoirs—have been published as fiction?
LRK: Well, they’re exciting and exotic and tell of little-known events in history—
MR: And this next one, which you have entitled The Game. I suppose readers will imagine you invented it, too? That Holmes and I did not actually race across Europe for the ship to India and join the hunt for the missing spy? That we never became itinerant magicians or encountered the Maharaja of Khanpur or joined forces with a Bolshevik or met Kipling’s Kim or went pig-sticking? That we never—oh, this is simply too outrageous. Young woman, if you wish to claim sole authorship of the books, then you may conduct this so-called interview without me as well. Good day.
LRK: Oh, Miss Russell, watch the—oh, please—don’t! Oh dear. (Sighs.) She’s gone.