This was a lazy read, but more absorbing than I had at first expected. I have enjoyed many of Laurie R. King’s mysteries but I don’t much care for the ones where she gives Sherlock Holmes a wife, Mary Russell. A tough-minded, spectacle-wearing Oxford bluestocking, she is called “Russell” by her husband and is beautiful despite the eyewear. Annoying. I’m a pedant by nature and this conceit takes too many liberties for me. So I should probably have been extra-annoyed by the premise of The Game, which has Russell and Holmes traveling to northern India to investigate the fate of one Kimball O’Hara, a valued British intelligence agent, first introduced to the world in Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim. The title refers to “The Great Game,” the long-standing border tension among Russia, Persia, and British India during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Naturally a lovely playground for spies.
If I hadn’t been captive on a transcontinental flight I might have put it down — King’s novels are sometimes leisurely, postponing plot for local color. There’s a fair amount of travelogue involved here, as our detecting pair travels through India to the tiny kingdom of Khanpur searching for traces of O’Hara. The acquisition of Hindustani, disguise by darkening the skin with walnut juice, impersonation of a pair of itinerant magicians… King doesn’t expect us to take any of this seriously. These are familiar tropes and there’s a certain pleasure to be had in witnessing her adept use of them. Ditto the descriptions of the rajah’s massive palace and the set-piece in which Mary goes pig-sticking. (With courage and surprising skill, naturally.) My favorite moment was when, in “the toy room,” she comes across several immense dioramas involving taxidermied mammals dressed up as humans at Ascot or at an English tea table. Creepy. For the most part, though, the colorful background comes across as researched rather than felt. Naturally Holmes and Russell prevail. Not much suspense.
Still. It’s probably time to pick up Kim.