Detective work doesn’t sleep. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes have barely closed the door on their latest case when they arrive in Transylvania to delve into another. Summoned by Roumania’s Queen Marie, the pair is commissioned to investigate the ominous happenstances lately encompassing Castle Bran, a structure with sinister and vampiric associations. The queen’s foremost concern lies in the written threat recently posed toward her teenage daughter, Princess Ileana, but Russell and Holmes soon find themselves running headlong into a case as complex as the superstitions shaping the manner in which a collection of disturbing events is being told.

No time can be lost in stopping the vampire (or is it ghost? or witch?) responsible. Identifying the obviously human source of the trouble, however, is made more difficult by the want of an obvious motive. The people seem to love the queen … so why is someone orchestrating things so that every portentous incident matches up exactly with the queen’s visits to Castle Bran? Perhaps the matter is political — a conclusion supported by the fact that Sherlock’s influential brother Mycroft, whose say over their lives is an ongoing issue for Russell, has taken an interest from a distance. Or, perhaps, the issue is far more personal than that.


As per the customary quality of her work, Laurie R. King has imbued Castle Shade (Ballantine) with all the creativity and intelligence deserving of a series that both immortalizes an ingenious, feminist heroine of her own making and continues the legacy of the astonishingly observant and eminently logical London gentleman whose name has become synonymous with detection. 

We are provided with a delightful ensemble of characters. Russell and Holmes remain as enjoyable as ever, a team perfectly matched in intellect but different enough in the traits they possess that they balance each other out. Meanwhile, the supporting cast quickly wins the reader’s affection. King breathes such vibrancy into these characters that one becomes invested in their history. One wishes the best for their future. One feels their reality.

King has also, once again, proven herself a master craftswoman when it comes to an intricate plot. The circumstances are bizarre enough to justify the attention of a detective who famously looks into only the most intriguing and unusual of cases, while each carefully designed puzzle piece slides into place with seeming effortlessness as the case progresses. Getting protagonists out of impossible situations can often feel contrived, but King somehow manages to get Russell and Holmes out of binds without the reader feeling as though an escape only happened for the sake of moving the plot along. Masterful problem-solving skills under the greatest of pressures are what aid our detectives, not the whim of the writer.

That’s not to say that the writer does not follow her whims. Indeed, King manages to do so in an enchanting way, adding the touches of whimsy necessary to create the kind of atmosphere that Castle Bran is meant to have, with its ties to such tales as Dracula. Such additions provide a magical quality to the already poetic nature of King’s writing style, an eloquence that is both lyrical and clear, melodic without detracting from coherency. Pen at the ready, and plot planned out with expert precision, she sets about bringing us into her world, asking us to use our minds, our imaginations and our hearts.


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Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 30 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (named “One of the 20th Century’s Best Crime Novels” by the IMBA.)  She has won the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Lambda, Wolfe, Macavity, Creasey dagger, and Romantic Times Career Achievement awards, has an honorary doctorate in theology, and has been guest of honor at several mystery conventions.  And yes, she is a Baker Street Irregular.