Other Reader’s Corner
Schoolteachers and librarians shaped my life. To this day, after nearly twenty years of being in print, it still gives me a thrill to spot my name on the Fiction shelf or to hear that one of my books is being used (to teach! as in honest-to-goodness, capital-L Literature!) in an English class. And to show my gratitude, I’ve dedicated The Game to librarians.
Novels, if honestly researched and carefully written, make valuable springboards for studies in a number of areas outside English lit. History, women’s studies, comparative religion, politics, technology—all enter into the novels I write. This site’s individual book pages show Internet links, and the Recommended Reading section below has brief bibliographies. But here I touch on how the books might be useful in developing classroom research topics. I would greatly appreciate feedback on this page for ways I might make it a more useful tool.
(I should insert here a particular note to Middle School teachers: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice begins, “I was fifteen years old when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.” Now, writers, particularly when they are just starting at their craft, may fantasize that the world will one day be moved and influenced by their words, but deep down, they never really believe it. So it surprised me when the American Library Association chose Beekeeper as a young adult “notable book.” And it positively stunned me when I realized the extent to which Mary Russell, written by [and essentially for] a woman then in her thirties, claimed the hearts of girls Mary’s own age, girls like Russell: bright, bookish, and awkward socially. [Although what normal adolescent is not awkward socially?] In fact, many adult readers of the series came to Russell through the passionate insistence of a daughter or student. So keep this in mind when time comes to recommend books to your students.)
I should also mention that, depending on how tight my touring schedule is, I am occasionally available to talk to library and school groups in cities where I have events. Contact information is on the Contact page.
To find reading guides for your classroom or book group discussions of Laurie’s books, please visit the Reading Guides page.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. (set from 1915-1919) The Great War looms large in the book—the sound of the big guns heard from the Sussex coast, rationing and civilian work, the daily disruption of normality, VAD nursing, and the women’s movement all enter the story line.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women. (set in 1921) Russell comes of age. Women’s rights and social welfare in London, feminism and religion, and the lasting social and psychological effects of the Great War, for civilians and soldiers.
A Letter of Mary. (1923) The letter of the title is an ancient document that seems to say Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles. The religious and social sensibilities of the 1920s meet up with Russell’s studies of academic theology, touching lightly upon first-century Christianity.
The Moor. (1923) Set on Dartmoor, with the true-life character Sabine Baring-Gould, folk-myth meets rationality, and (as a comparative study) Laurie R. King confronts Arthur Conan Doyle more directly than in any of the other books (The Hound of the Baskervilles).
O Jerusalem. (1919) Set in the early days of the British mandate of Palestine, the decisions made there by such men as General Allenby and T. E. Lawrence laid the groundwork for the Middle East we see today. Before the War, Christian, Muslim, and Jew co-existed without too much difficulty; under the British, they were soon in deadly rivalry. This book is set at that historical turning point.
Justice Hall. (1923) This book meets the same characters as O Jerusalem, but in a different setting. The British aristocracy and all it touched were turned inside out during the early decades of the century, both through huge losses during the War and the influenza epidemic of 1919-1920, and because of far-reaching changes in the traditional laws of inheritance. This story looks at those changes, at the traditional rights and responsibilities of the aristocracy, and at the execution of hundreds of young soldiers during the War for little more than shell shock.
The Game. (1924) Set on India’s north-west frontier, which eighty years ago faced most of the same issues it does now—and which the British found as difficult to free themselves from as we do. The book also touches on an earlier age of political intrigue and border skirmishes, made famous by Rudyard Kipling as “The Great Game.” This Victorian-age Cold War is as much in the background of the novel (in fact, Kipling’s Kim is one of the actors) as it is in the lives of the people there today.
Kate Martinelli is an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. She is also a lesbian, in what is essentially a paramilitary organization. In A Grave Talent, a still-closeted Martinelli encounters a “woman Rembrandt,” and wrestles with the question of why there have been so few great women artists.
To Play the Fool finds a “holy fool” in modern society, with questions raised about monastic self-discipline, the dangers of an overly structured society, our responsibility to the homeless, and religion as both freedom and straight-jacket.
With Child explores the issues of homeless adolescents and the creatures that prey upon them.
In Night Work, Martinelli encounters an extreme assertion of women’s rights against abusive men, as well as the other extreme, represented in the Indian tradition of bride-burning.
In A Darker Place (The Birth of a New Moon in the UK), professor of religion Anne Waverley investigates modern religious movements—“cults”—for the government, in the process witnessing how a religion is built, and the psychological makeup of those who join.
Folly is the story of a psychologically troubled woman who goes to a deserted Pacific Northwest island to rebuild the house of her great-uncle, a man damaged by his experiences in the Great War. The actual wood-and stones building of the house forms the paradigm of her rebuilding of her life, from the foundation up, and the island solitude leads her to a community.
Keeping Watch, also set partly in the Pacific Northwest, follows the lives of Allen Carmichael, who barely survives the devastation of the Vietnam War, and of young Jamie O’Connell, survivor of a devastating childhood. What makes a killer? Why does one person succumb, while another stands against oppression, and finds the strength to help others?