‘A Monstrous Regiment of Women’ is the second novel in Laurie R. King’s ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ series. I have very mixed feelings regarding this book. Right until the end this was going to go on my favorites shelf and could only receive a 5 star rating but there is a twist at the end that has left me disappointed and uncomfortable for the future of the series. I’m still coming to terms with it. I waited to write my review because of these feelings. I did not want to unfairly overshadow the rest of what is otherwise a fantastic book.
It is 1921 in Oxford and London. Mary Russell has graduated and is about to debut her first Academic Article that is not attached to being a student. She is turning 21 which allows her to throw out her distasteful, money grubbing Aunt whom has held the purse strings to her inheritance. Ms. Russell is going through many transitions as a student to academic, child of controlled means to an heiress, girl to woman, and the strange tension between Sherlock Holmes and herself – she is no longer an apprentice and can she be trusted to handle a case on her own?
Mary finds herself in London waiting to come into her inheritance and runs into a friend, Veronica, from her schooling in Oxford. Veronica, or Ronny, pulls her into her life. Ronny is engaged but is breaking the engagement because her young man came home from the war broken with drug addictions she has not been able to pull him away from. The book delves deeply into the effects on society, gender roles, and personal self-worth World War I had on its survivors. Holmes is brought into to help Ronny’s young man but that is not the only mystery in London.
Ronny is deeply involved in The Temple and a charismatic woman named Margaret. Margaret is rallying women who previously were nurses and running the country in the absence of the men sent to war. These women were left without a place at the end of the war. King explores the fact woman were required to vacate the jobs they had to marry, but marry who. They are “surplice women,” there are too many women and few men returned. The men that did return came back damaged, and many weren’t choosing to marry, preferring to fall into paths of self-destruction. To fill a gap The Temple is giving these young women something to do: teaching women to read and build literacy, providing safety and supplies to battered women and their families, providing medical care, and working to increase women’s rights now that the vote has passed. The problem is when you have a large group of the disenfranchised that are being directed and utilized by a leader are their actions really charitable or could there be a deeper agenda at work? That is Mary’s case.
The book is extremely well researched and written. It addresses the issues that left England ravaged after World War I head on. She also evokes strong emotion on behalf of the characters and the situation. I learned a lot regarding the time period and was sucked into the period concepts of class structure, feminism, gender roles, addiction, PTSD, human nature, etc. I believe King did a remarkable job exploring these subjects without being overly biased.
The situation that left me upset deals with how Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell develop their friendship/relationship as equal adults opposed to an apprentice mentor relationship. To say anything else would be an extravagant spoiler. I do recommend this book despite my issues with the ending, especially to anyone who enjoys mystery’s, well researched historical fiction, and sociological studies.