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1923. Mary Russell Holmes and her husband, the retired Sherlock Holmes, are enjoying the summer together on their Sussex estate when they are visited by an old friend, Miss Dorothy Ruskin, an archeologist just returned from Palestine. She leaves in their protection an ancient manuscript which seems to hint at the possibility that Mary Magdalene was an apostle--an artifact certain to stir up a storm of biblical proportions in the Christian establishment. When Ruskin is suddenly killed in a tragic accident, Russell and Holmes find themselves on the trail of a fiendishly clever murderer.
King set a new paradigm for Holmesian scholarship with her inspired invention of a retired, still energetic Sherlock Holmes who trained young Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994) and then embraced her as a professional partner and wife (A Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1995). This third in the series, set in 1923, involves the suspicious death of Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archeologist recently returned from Palestine, who gave Mary, an academic theologian, a letter dated about A.D. 70 written by "Mariam the Apostle" to her sister in Magdala. Mary Magdalene? An Apostle? Holmes and "Mrs. Sherlock," as Lord Peter Wimsey addresses her in a funny cameo, collaborate. Red herrings define the political and cultural climate: a retired colonel's opposition to women's suffrage; Dorothy's interest in Zionism; the British Near East scholar/spy network; the tumultuously upsetting implications of the letter for organized Christianity. The investigation also includes the Ruskin family. King's achievement is her depiction of the complex relationship between two individualists. Almost 40 years apart, they're fondly indulgent of one another's idiosyncrasies and share intellectual camaraderie, companionable humor and sexual attraction. While Sherlock delivers ongoing tutelage in arcane clue analysis, Mary hypnotizes a witness to prod her memory. If you can't imagine the misogynist Sherlock Holmes sharing domestic bliss, this novel will make you a believer. Major ad/promo; author tour; paperback rights: Bantam; audio rights: Durkin Hayes and Recorded Books.