Monday, August 29, 2011

Gilbert, Sullivan, and…Sherlock Holmes?

(Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 21 crime novels, including a historical series featuring “The worlds greatest detective…and her husband, Sherlock Holmes.”   Mary Russell and her slightly more famous husband feature in King’s upcoming novel Pirate King, set in 1924 London, Lisbon, and Morocco.  Why Pirates?  Haven’t you heard?  Pirate is the new Vampire.)

Laurie ARrrgh!King will be signing, singing and speaking
at The Scottsdale Community College Sept. 10 at 5pm. (Details)
I write a series that is basically whimsical: young Mary Russell meets old Sherlock Holmes, becomes his 
apprentice, then partner, and eventually wife.  I mean, sure, my own husband was 30 years my senior, but if you don’t think I was oblivious to the humor in that situation, you’ve never met me.  Or indeed, him.
Early on, the thread of acknowledged ridiculousness was woven into the edges of all the Russell stories, although I took care not to let it get in the way of the adventure, and to keep the silliness out of those parts that addressed more serious matters.  However, between one thing and another, after ten books the Russell series was becoming more and more solemn.  The last pair of books might as well have been mainstream suspense novels.

Time to hit the re-set button.

Time to embrace my inner whimsy, to pull out the stops, to grab farce with both hands.  And what better partner-in-silliness than that most English of clowns, dignified and colorful and with tongue oh-so-firmly in cheek, W. S. Gilbert?

Readers of the Mary Russell stories have seen Sherlock Holmes interact with Gilbert and Sullivan before this, in Monstrous Regiment of Women:
…a massive woman whose full bust strained the bright yellow satin of her dress above the try she bore, a selection of glittering geegaws.  With the ponderous dignity of the profoundly intoxicated, she took up a strategic position across the street from the doors, and no sooner had they opened with the first of the released crowd than she burst into full-throated song.
“‘I’m called Little Buttercup—dear Little Buttercup, tho’ I could never tell why,’” she warbled in a nearly accurate contralto, the jet beads on her primrose bonnet quivering with effort.
That is one of Sherlock Holmes’ more effective disguises. For an illustration of Buttercup, see below.   
And it was precisely the effect I was aiming for in the new novel.  I had already decided to set the story in Lisbon and Morocco, which offered me color aplenty.  But instead of the strictly nautical themes of H.M.S. Pinafore, I thought I might find more scope for a Russell and Holmes adventure in The Pirates of Penzance.

Thus was born Pirate King.

But not just any Pirates of Penzance, oh no.  This would be a Twenties version of the classic, a jazz-age updating, a moving picture version that not only embraced the Gilbert & Sullivan level of frenetic absurdity, but added men with movie cameras and megaphone-wielding directors, chewing-gum snapping young actresses and romantic leads of uncertain sexuality, actors who were pirates and pirates who were actors and pirate-actors who were something else entirely.  And in the middle of this muddle would be Miss Mary Russell and that epitome of Victorian rectitude, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

As you probably can tell, I had a whole lot of fun with this, and still am, especially online.  The Laurie ARrrgh! King page tells all about it, including a version of Penzance’s Major-General’s song that I ravaged—er, rewrote for the purpose of the Pirate King book tour.  It begins, “I am the very model of the modern major criminal…”
Prizes, pirates, and a singalong.  A book signing should be memorable, right?

Laurie’s web site, with newsletter signup, is at To order a signed copy of the upcoming Pirate King, go here:

LINKS used in post (where words are underlined):

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