I feel like I need to write two different reviews for Pirate King— one directed towards those new to Mary Russell, and one for fans of the series (I am decidedly part of the latter group).
Summary via Goodreads.com:
In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.
Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.
I’m generally a proponent of reading series in order, and that does stand for the Mary Russell books. That said, most (but not all) of them can stand alone fairly well, and this one is relies on the books that came before even less than the rest.
In other words, if this book intrigues you, go ahead and stick your toes in here. You may well want to fill in the earlier books when you finish, but don’t worry about that right now.
This is a really fun read. It isn’t so much a funny book as a comic one, and it never takes itself too seriously. I loved the pirates, the movie people, the crazy poet/translator, but most of all, I loved Mary Russell in the middle of it all.
This book is less about the mystery than it is about dealing with a rather ridiculous situation with a straight face, solving the problems that arise without ever letting on exactly how odd the overall picture really is. The mystery is there to hold the book together. This book is much lighter on the character development than the usual Laurie R. King book, but the cast of characters are well put together and fun to read.
For those looking at this book having read others in the series, I have a few other notes to share. First, while Russell and Holmes don’t develop significantly in this book, they are behaving in character. I was a little worried about that, but I needn’t have been. Yes, Holmes and Russell do spend more of the book apart than together, but that isn’t really a surprise at this point, is it?
Although there are moments of humor in most (if not all) of the other books in the series, this has a decidedly different overall tone. It works quite well as a contrast to the previous 3 books, which were getting progressively darker. I don’t mind if the series goes that way as a whole, but this is a nice break.
I don’t think this will ever be one of my favorite Mary Russell books, but I suspect I’ll always approach it with a smile, in anticipation of a very enjoyable read.
I received this book for advance review via the Library Thing Early Reviewer Program.