Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award
It is 1921 and Mary Russell--Sherlock Holmes's brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology--is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell's attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn.
About the Author
Laurie R. King is the Edgar Award-winning author of four contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, eight acclaimed Mary Russell mysteries, and four stand-alone novels, including the highly praised A Darker Place. She lives in northern California.
Reading Group Guide
1. Throughout the novel, Laurie King plays with the idea of religion fulfilling not just spiritual but earthly needs, e.g. in the way that Margery Childe responds to the political desires of independent women, and also in the brief passage in which Veronica recounts her time in Italy, and her crush on a handsome priest. What does Kings novel say about the intersection of religious and secular life, or the relationship between the two? To what degree does each character know what they want, and how to get it?
2. Margery Childe gives more than one radical reading of the first lines of Genesis, exploring not only the power of creation but of love. While Mary is always keen to scrutinize Childes theology, what is the deeper affect of Childes sermons on Mary? In what ways does King play with the age-old struggle between faith and reason in the novel? Are "faith" and "reason" at play as well when a man and woman are falling in love?
3. Is a mystery novel propelled by the movement of its plot or the dimension of its characters? In A Monstrous Regiment of Women the characters arrive with considerable depth and pathos. Margery Childe is described: "She shut her eyes for a long moment. When she openedthem, the magic had gone out of her, and she was just a small, tired, disheveled woman in an expensive dress, with a much-needed drink and cigarette to hand." In what ways do such descriptions and depth enhance the mystery and suspense of the story?
4. Laurie King draws significantly upon the history of the feminist movement in England. Would you say the book itself has a political point of view? What do you see as the difference between the feminist movements of then and now?
5. The Great War brought with it considerable social upheaval. In what ways does King show the impact of the war upon her characters - From Miles, Ronnies fiancé, to Mary Russell and to Holmes himself?
6. From the food, to the wall hangings, to the style of dress, to the social and political attitudes of each character, to the presence of narcotics, Laurie King adorns and enriches her story with much historical detail. In what ways do these details, both small and large, help evoke the world of the story? What details were the most surprising to you?
7. In the Conan Doyle books, Watson at times seems like a surrogate for the reader, whom Holmes guides through the intricacies of the mystery. Could the same be said of Mary Russell? What are the differences between how she and Watson tell a story?
8. Both Mary Russell and Margery Childe come into a great deal of money, and both certainly have a taste for luxury. What moral dilemma do they face each time they spend money? Is Laurie King saying something about the moral implications of wealth? Of charity?
9. Perhaps humanitys greatest mystery is that of its existence, and some would say that the Bible is the case file of that mystery. Discuss the theological point of view of Monstrous Regiment, and how Marys journey deep into the Bible at once illuminates the novels ideas - about money, love, faith, and charity - and how it helps to move the mystery forward.
10. At the end of this book, a twenty-one year old woman marries a fifty-nine year old man. Does this strike you as outside, or within, the social norms of the time? In what ways do Russell and Holmes seem to reflect the values of their age, and in what ways do they seem progressive or ahead of their time? Do you think that historical fiction sometimes tends to overstate the propriety of that day and age? What seems to be Kings take?