.The Lantern’s Dance

A new Russell & Sherlock adventure explores the puzzle of Sherlock Holmes' ancestry

Author Laurie R. King began her ingenious literary take on the world of Sherlock Holmes in 1994, centering on the retired crime-solver, now a country beekeeper, who accidentally joins forces with the bright young Mary Russell. Three decades later fans of King’s award-winning Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series will gather on Feb. 17 at MAH for a celebration of 30 years of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The weekend also launches the publication of The Lantern’s Dance, the latest Russell & Sherlock adventure exploring the 100-year-old puzzle of Sherlock Holmes’ ancestry. The Bookshop Santa Cruz launch of The Lantern’s Dance on Friday 7pm, Feb. 16, and book talk with author Laurie R. King is FREE but requires advance registration.)


We caught up with the author, busy planning her whirlwind national tour for the 30th anniversary of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and over a cup of tea we revisited her literary odyssey.

GT: How did the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes stories come about?

LK: It seemed that he was a character who was given a huge amount of credit for doing stuff that in a woman would be just counted as female intuition. And I thought it would be interesting to play with the idea of what would that mind look like in a different setting? So instead of having the brilliant mind in this middle aged Victorian male, what would it look like if it were in a young female? And that’s where Mary Russell came from.

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GT: At what point did you realize that you had something that clicked?

LK: When I wrote that first line, I found that her voice was there. My kids were at school and I sat down and wrote, “I was 15 when I first met Sherlock Holmes.” And that voice really just stepped forward in a way that writers always hope that characters do. And they don’t always. But I was very lucky with Mary Russell. I could hear her from the beginning.

GT: There are 18 books so far. Why is this series so popular?

LK: For one thing I think that a lot of women, especially young women, love the idea that Russell gets the better of Holmes. Holmes is this masculine icon of superior cleverness, and to have her outsmart him from their very first meeting, is deeply satisfying. It’s a way of thinking about what women can do. I didn’t have a young audience in mind necessarily, but from the beginning it had feet in both worlds YA and adult readers.

GT: Did you find it surprising that suddenly she goes from being the teenage apprentice to becoming Mrs. Holmes?

LK: Looking back I’m not sure I would have planned it. If it were set in modern times, it would be more difficult. With Mary and Holmes, they too have their differences, but age is not really part of that.

It had to be a partnership, and it just felt odd to me to have a partnership that was not a full partnership. And at the time, I think without realizing it, I was headed for reshaping Holmes.

Because, you know, he gets sort of the short end of the stick out of Conan Doyle, because he doesn’t really have any relationships. His main friendship is with a man who really is not his intellectual equal. Dr. Watson has many strengths but cleverness is not one of them.

GT: You currently work on other mysteries, for example the Kate Martinelli books. Why jump from one series to another?

LK: I love telling stories, but I do find it difficult to live with the same characters year in and year out. If I were to do a Sue Grafton and write the same characters all the time it would make me crazy. I like to trade off. I’m very fortunate that my publisher is willing to let me do different things.

GT: And the next Mary Russell book?

LK: Eventually they have to go to England. The last several books have had a kind of subtext of her difficulties with his brother, who is something big in the British government—a spymaster. And his power and his ability to  manipulate things is creating problems in a number of ways. At some point there’s a confrontation that’s going to happen and I wasn’t ready for that. So I had to play around with other things, so I came up with a more likable character to work with.

GT: Have you ever thought of having them divorce?

LK: No, but I could see her murdering him! [laughter]


  1. I have read many of her books and find them fascinating. I look forward to hearing her on Friday.

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