Riviera Gold

Written by Laurie R. King

Review written by Jon Morgan

Jon Morgan is a retired police Superintendent and francophile who, it is said, has consequently seen almost everything awful that people can do to each other. He relishes quality writing in all genres but advises particularly on police procedure for authors including John Harvey and Jon McGregor. Haunts bookshops both new and secondhand and stands with Erasmus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I may buy food and clothes.”

Riviera Gold
Alison & Busby
RRP: £19.99
Released: June 9, 2020

I came late to these novels, which almost defy, or at least cross genres, but I am utterly hooked. This is the sixteenth of the series, but complacency and a formulaic approach are not faults which can be attributed to it.

The original (and it is original) conceit here is that circa 1914, a late teenaged Mary Russell, an orphan from California, and whose parents and brother dies in a car crash which she alone survived, has been sent to live with her only relative, an Aunt in Sussex. Across the early books, Russell, as she is normally known, meets a curmudgeonly, bachelor, retiree whose hobby is beekeeping and whose house is kept for him by a certain Mrs. Hudson. Are bells ringing as yet? He takes Russell under his wing in the ‘Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ and teaches this sharp witted ‘bluestocking’ until she attains her majority, turns her cruel Aunt out and is independently wealthy, toddling off to Oxford to read classics, as one does.

In the following books a certain pattern is set during which Holmes, for it is indeed he, and Russell acknowledged their growing attraction which is both intellectual and mutually respectful, as well as physical, and marry. The difference in their ages is irrelevant to them and frankly us as well.

Adventures abound, taking the pair, together or singly off to various parts of the world solving mysteries and sometimes aided by or indeed working for the British Crown represented by a certain Mycroft Holmes. On the way they meet the great, good and sometimes not so good from their contemporary history and are present at certain key events of the times. There are almost always links to historical events and if it sounds a little ‘Forrest Gump’-like, the comparison is not entirely invalid. It should be noted that there are always links to the original Conan Doyle stories. She knows her stuff, does Ms King! The information for the books comes from certain letters and documents ‘sent to the author’ and upon which she bases her narratives.

In the book in question, which takes up after Mrs Hudson has left Holmes’ employ - her shady past having been revealed, and after Holmes (Mr Russell) and Russell have sojourned in inter-war Venice where the fascists are beginning to wield their malign influence and where Holmes duets with Cole Porter. Holmes them takes off for Romania and Russell decides, surreptitiously, to track down Mrs. Hudson, whose last words to her, mentioned that she has always wanted to see Monte Carlo.

Finding herself in Monaco, and the history of the principality is fascinatingly summarised, she spots Mrs Hudson working as a children’s Nanny for Sara and Gerald Murphy in a pre-famous Juan Les Pins and she has taken up with an old friend who is no other than Lillie Langtry. The set in which Russell moves includes ‘Zelda,’ whose husband ‘Scotty’ is ‘a writer,’ Picasso and a host of others whose identities and roles are more alluded to than baldly stated.

Mrs Hudson is arrested for murder and teaming up with a returned Holmes, Russell sets out to prove her innocence whilst the presence of White Russian exiles and corrupt financiers swill around in the cesspit that is Monaco in those days. The Czar’s missing gold reserves are purportedly involved and the climax of the tale is a thrilling sea chase.

If all this sounds a bit ‘Boy’s /Girl’s Own Paper,’ then perhaps it is, but it is impeccably researched and detailed and you find yourself walking the streets of the Riviera in the jazz age, playing spot the future celebrity and trying to second-guess the outcome.

This book, like its predecessors, is simply a very good read and great fun. Ms. King writes with a refreshingly intelligent relish, which is, in my view, impossible (Go on, I dare you, try!) to resist. The publication of a new Homes and Russell novel is a red-letter day in the calendar. I for one cannot wait for more!

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