Laurie R. King. Locked Rooms (2005) 416 pp.
In 1924, Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are in San Francisco so that she can sell the Pacific Heights house that she inherited after her family’s death in an automobile crash ten years before. The backstory is that Russell’s father—who hailed from an old Boston family—and mother—who was British—had settled in San Francisco at the turn of the century and lived through the 1906 earthquake (although at the beginning of the novel Mary has repressed all of her memories of that time). Mary and her mother and younger brother then moved back to England for several years, where her father would occasionally visit them. The family returned to San Francisco in 1914 and just before her father was to leave to join the fighting in World War I, they were killed when their Maxwell plunged off of the highway on the Peninsula, leaving Mary as the only survivor. After several months of recovery—both physically and mentally—Mary returned to England for good, where she soon made the acquaintance of the world’s greatest detective and became his apprentice. Now Russell and Holmes are in San Francisco to officially cut all of her ties to the city. Shortly after their arrival, Mary is shot at by an unknown assailant, leading her and Holmes to begin investigating what secrets there could be about the long-shuttered house that someone would want to kill her to protect. The investigation leads back to the earthquake and its immediate aftermath. Something happened during that time that drastically changed her father’s relationships with his wife and with the family’s long-devoted gardener, a Chinese-American who lost his own Chinatown home to the fire. As Mary struggles with her childhood memories and ideals, Holmes takes a more pragmatic approach to the investigation, hiring a young, ex-Pinkerton agent/struggling writer named Dashiell Hammett to assist him in local inquiries. Hammett quickly uncovers evidence that the brakes to the Russell auto had been tampered with and that the “accident” was no accident—it was murder. Although all of the action in this novel takes place years after the earthquake, the solution to the murders eventually leads directly back to the chaotic days of April 1906, when extraordinary events caused ordinary people to commit drastic—and sometimes illegal and certainly immoral—actions. The eighth title in King’s Russell/Holmes series.
Setting: San Francisco (Pacific Heights)