ISLAND OF THE MAD – Laurie R. King
Venice – 1925
Mary Russell's childhood friend, Ronnie Fitzwarren, contacts her asking for help in finding her Aunt Vivian. Lady Vivian, it seems, was home visiting her family, released from Bethlem Royal Hospital (known to most as Bedlam) temporarily. She was accompanied by a nurse from the hospital. Mary recalls a visit to Bedlam with Ronnie several years before and finding Lady Vivian at ease with her surroundings and admitting to feeling safe there. Mary always thought it was an interesting idea to feel safe in such an institution. But now, after visiting her sister-in-law and half-brother (who lived in the largest part of the house), Vivian and her nurse have vanished.
Selwick Hall, where Vivian's half-brother, the Marquess, lived was Mary's first stop in her search for Ronnie's aunt. When Vivian left, she apparently took some family jewels and other items. Vivian's sister-in-law was pleasant but not very helpful, and the Marquess came off as a nasty piece of work. Mary's search of Vivian's room reveals other items that were missing, mostly artwork that Vivian created. Still, there wasn't much to go on except for the fact that Mary discovers some of the missing items were masks similar to ones worn in Venice.
Despite this being Mary's friend, and even though Mary is totally capable of investigating the situation in Venice by herself, she is surprised when her husband, Sherlock Holmes, decides to accompany her. He is, however, doing so at the request of his brother, Mycroft, who is a senior member of British Intelligence. The rise of Mussolini and Fascism has Mycroft and other government officials concerned. So, in disguise and using fake names, Mary and Sherlock arrive in the lovely city of Venice.
Mary and Sherlock work together, but each with separate goals. Mary fits herself into the party atmosphere, making friends with various interesting people, as well as finding two gondoliers who gladly assist her when she hires them to transport her exclusively. There are local stories about an island where the insane are housed, and another where stories of a mad doctor abound. As for Sherlock, in his disguise, he takes up a violin and makes friends with Cole Porter and his wife. They seem to have attracted a myriad of interesting people, including some of the Black Shirts under Mussolini's orders.
ISLAND OF THE MAD is a page turner with a typically entertaining ending compliments of Mary and Sherlock. The pair are an odd team, she in her twenties, and he considerably older. But a team they are and equal in all ways.
Readers of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books will enjoy this latest installment. Meticulous research and beautifully written, ISLAND OF THE MAD is a great summer read.