Justice Hall is the sixth book in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series. In the fifth book, Ms. King revisits an earlier episode in the Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell history, taking us back to a visit to the Holy Land that occurred in the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. In that book, the trip to the Holy Land is glossed over; Ms. King used book five, O, Jerusalem, to flesh out that episode. While I enjoyed O Jerusalem, it was my least favorite book in the series so far, mainly because it took Holmes and Russell back in time, and I missed the nuances of their more recent relationship. I did, however, enjoy two of the characters from O Jerusalem: Mahmoud and Ali, two Bedouin Arabs in the employ of Holmes’ brother, Mycroft.
Justice Hall returns Russell and Holmes to Britain and the year 1923. They have just returned home from their adventure on the Moor (The Moor), and Mary especially is looking forward to some down time. Their quiet evening is interrupted when Ali shows up at their door, injured, and looking more like a British nobleman than a Beoduin. He asks them to come help Mahmoud, who is actually Marsh Hughenfort, the seventh Duke of Beauville. Marsh has accepted that it is his duty to take over Justice Hall, the ducal seat, and to serve as the Duke, but it is killing him. His heart and soul are in Palestine, and Ali wants Russell and Holmes to convince him to go back there.
Marsh won’t abandon his birthright, however, unless he knows that the succession is secure. Marsh’s brother’s son, Gabriel, died in the Great War. The other known heir is a young French boy who doesn’t appear to actually have a blood tie to the Hughenforts. Holmes and Russell begin to investigate the various elements of the story, grasping at straws to try to find a way out for Marsh.
King has crafted an involved mystery, and one that delves into the experiences of the young men who fought in the trenches of World War I. That’s one of the things I like best about King’s mysteries – they aren’t simply mysteries. Each book has a deeper issue that is being teased out, whether it’s women’s rights or theology or, in this case, the idea of bravery and honor in the face of the most horrific circumstances.
Reading one of the Mary Russell mysteries is one of the best kind of reading experiences – it makes me feel like I’ve visited with old friends. Part of that is because Mary is a book-lover, and therefore a kindred spirit. These are her words as Ali gives her a tour of Justice Hall, taking her through the library:
I felt instantly at home, and wanted only to dismiss Alistair, along with the rest of Justice Hall, that I might have a closer look at the shelves. I had to content myself instead with a strolling perusal, my hands locked together behind my back to keep them from reaching out for Le Morte d’Arthur, Caxton 1485 or the delicious little red-and-gilt Bestiary, MS Circa 1250 or … If I took one down, I should be lost. So I looked, like a hungry child in a sweet shop, and trailed out on my guide’s heels with one longing backward glance.
I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I will do so anyway. If you love mysteries, read these books. If you love historical fiction, read these books. If you love well-crafted description and character studies, read these books. Start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. If you don’t love it, I’ll shut up, but I think you will.