Mystery Laurie R. King The Game

ISBN 13: 9780553801941

The Game

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9780553801941: The Game

Laurie R. King’s bestselling mystery series featuring Mary Russell and her husband and partner, Sherlock Holmes, is beloved by readers and acclaimed by critics the world over. Now the illustrious duo returns for their most dangerous exploit yet, in a rich and atmospheric tale that takes them to India to save the life of one of literature’s most fabled heroes.

It’s the second day of the new year, 1924, and Mary Russell is settling in for a much-needed rest with her husband, Sherlock Holmes. But the fragile peace will be fleeting—for a visit with Holmes’s gravely ill brother, Mycroft, brings news of an intrigue that is sure to halt their respite. Mycroft, who has ties to the highest levels of the government, has just received a strange package. The oilskin-wrapped packet contains the papers of a missing English spy named Kimball O’Hara—indeed, the same Kimball who served as the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s famed Kim.
An orphaned English boy turned loose in India, Kim long used his cunning to spy for the Crown. But after inexplicably withdrawing from the “Great Game” of border espionage, he’s gone missing and is feared taken hostage—or even killed.

When Russell learns of Holmes’s own secret friendship with Kim some thirty years before, she knows the die is cast: she will accompany her husband to India to search for the missing operative. But even before they arrive, danger will show its face in everything from a suspicious passenger on board their steamer to an “accident” that very nearly claims their lives. Once in India, Russell and Holmes must travel incognito—no small task for the English lady and her lanky companion. But after a twist of fate forces the couple to part ways, Russell learns that in this faraway place it’s often impossible to tell friend from foe—and that some games must be played out until their deadly end.

Showcasing King’s masterful plotting and skill at making history leap from the page, The Game brings alive an India fraught with unrest and poised for change—and an unpredictable mystery with brilliance and character to match.

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About the Author:

Laurie R. King became the first novelist since Patricia Cornwell to win prizes for Best First Crime Novel on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of her debut thriller, A Grave Talent. She is the bestselling author of four contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, seven Mary Russell mysteries, and the bestselling novels A Darker Place and Folly. She lives in northern California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Travel broadens, they say. My personal experience has been that, in the short term at any rate, it merely flattens, aiming its steam-roller of deadlines and details straight at one's daily life, leaving a person flat and gasping at its passage.

On the first of January, 1924, I was enjoying a peaceful New Year's evening with my partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes, in our snug stone house on the Sussex Downs, blissfully unaware that scarcely forty hours later I would be sprinting desperately for a train across a snow-covered railway siding. But on the first day of the new year, I was at peace and I was at home, with a full stomach, a tipsy head, and—most pleasant of all—warm feet. No fewer than three bottles of wine stood on the sideboard, in various stages of depletion. Holmes had just taken a connoisseur's sip of the last to appear in our glasses, a dusty port twice as old as I. He sighed in satisfaction and stretched his slippers out to the fire.

"It is good to find that the French vineyards are recovering from the War," he noted, although of the three wines, only the champagne had gone into its bottle since 1918.

I agreed, rather absently I will admit. As I took a swallow of the glorious liquid, it occurred to me that some part of the back of my mind was braced for a ring of the telephone or a furious pounding on the door. The visceral mistrust of leisure was perhaps understandable: Twice in the past six months the outside world had crashed in on us; indeed, we had been similarly seated before the fire one evening a scant two months earlier when an investigation literally fell into our arms, in the form of an old friend with a bloodied head. It was not yet midnight, and I had no faith in our stout oaken door to keep out surprises of the kind Holmes tended to attract.

However, pleasantly enough, no pounding fist came to trouble our companionship or, later, our slumber, and we rose early the next morning, fortified ourselves with one of Mrs. Hudson's hearty breakfasts (this one even more elaborate than usual, to make up for her being cheated of preparing the dinner for this, my twenty-fourth birthday), and bundled into our warmest clothes for the sleet-drenched trip to London. We rode the train in silence, taken up with our thoughts and with the newspapers, both as cheerless as the landscape outside the windows. Foot-and-mouth disease, the rising Seine, and doomsayers with apocalyptic predictions on both sides of the Atlantic, set off by the recent Labour victory.

Grimmer yet was the real reason for our visit to the great city. We had no end of business there, of course, from a long-delayed appointment with the bank manager to calling on a noble family in order to follow up on our most recently concluded investigation, but in truth, we were there to see Holmes' brother Mycroft, whose health was giving, as the euphemism goes, cause for concern.

He was home from hospital already, although the doctors had strongly advised against it, and embarked on his own programme of therapy. I personally wouldn't have thought a near-starvation diet of meat and red wine combined with long hours of vigorous calisthenics would be the best thing for a shaky heart, but not even Holmes' arguments made much of an inroad on Mycroft's determination. We had maintained a closer contact with him than usual over the past week and a half, none of us voicing the thought that each visit could well be our last. We hurried through the day's business, I listening with half an ear to the urgent recitation of calamity that trembled over the head of my American possessions, thinking only that, affection for my father or not, the time had come to rid myself of his once-cherished properties across the sea. I kept glancing at my wrist-watch, until finally with a sigh my solicitor threw up metaphorical hands, gave me the papers that required my signature, and allowed me to escape.

When we arrived at Mycroft's door, however, I had to admit that his self-prescribed fitness regime did not seem to be doing him any harm. He was up and around, and if he opened the door in his slippers and dressing-gown, he moved without hesitation and had colour in his face. There was also nearly a stone less of him than there had been on Christmas Day, which made his jowls flaccid and his eyes more hooded than usual.

"Many happy returns of the day, Mary," he said, and to Holmes, "I believe you'll find a corkscrew on the tray, if you'd be so kind." After toasts came the inevitable discussion of the impending disaster that the new Labour government was certain to bring in. Predictions were rife, that the institution of marriage was sure to be done away with, that rubles would replace the pound sterling, the Boy Scouts and the monarchy would be abolished, the House of Lords sold for housing flats—everything short of plagues and rains of frogs. There were strong rumours that the Prime Minister would refuse to step down to Labour's minority vote, thus igniting a constitutional crisis if not outright revolution; the newspapers that morning had mentioned the concern of America, politeness thinly concealing Washington's growing alarm. When I said something of the sort, Mycroft nodded.

"Yes, the Americans are becoming increasingly nervous about the Reds. They seem to envision a Socialist state that stretches from London to Peking, and don't know whether to be more worried about the Bolsheviks succeeding, or about the chaos that will follow if they fail."

When we had exhausted the various topics, we sat down to a meal only marginally less sumptuous than one of Mycroft's usual, accompanied by what passed for small talk and polite conversation in the Holmes household, in this case an interesting development in forensic science from America and a nice murder that was baffling the authorities. Dessert was a small decorated cake, which none of us ate.

The pouring of coffee, offer of brandy, and fingering of cigars indicated that the meal was finished, business could be resumed. The talk circled back through the Labour victory and the huge problems facing a minority government, before Mycroft took a last, ritual mouthful from his cup, put it onto the table, and asked, "Have you been following the news from Russia?"

My head snapped up as if he'd hauled back on my reins—which in a way, he had: I knew him far too well to think his question innocent. "No!" I said sharply, before things could edge one syllable further down that slippery slope. "I absolutely refuse to go to Moscow in January."

He made a show of shifting feebly in his chair, letting out a quiet sigh of infirmity before he looked up. "I said nothing about Moscow."

"Siberia, then. Some place either deadly or freezing, or both."

He abandoned the attempt at innocence. "I would go myself," he tried, but at my disbelieving snort and Holmes' raised eyebrow, he dropped that as well. All the world knew that Mycroft Holmes went nowhere outside his tightly worked circle if he could possibly avoid it: Dr Watson had once referred to Mycroft's unexpected appearance in their Baker Street flat as akin to finding a tram-car running down a country lane.

It did, however, answer a question that had been in the back of my mind ever since the general election, namely, how would the radical change in government affect Mycroft? Mycroft's role in the outgoing Tory government was as undefined as it was enormous; it seemed he intended to simply ignore the shuffling of office-holders all around him.

"What has happened, Mycroft?" Holmes asked, drawing my attention back to the until-now overlooked fact that, if Mycroft, in his condition, had been consulted on a matter by whichever government, it had to have struck someone as serious indeed.

By way of answer, the big man reached inside the folds of his voluminous silken dressing-gown and pulled out a flat, oilskin-wrapped packet about three inches square. He put it onto the linen cloth and pushed it across the table in our direction. "This came into my hands ten hours ago."

Holmes retrieved the grimy object, turned it over, and began to pick apart the careful tucks. The oilskin had clearly been folded in on itself for some time, but parted easily, revealing a smaller object, a leather packet long permeated by sweat, age, and what appeared to be blood. This seemed to have been sewn shut at least two or three times in its life. The most recent black threads had been cut fairly recently, to judge by their looseness; no doubt that explained the easy parting of the oilskin cover. Holmes continued unfolding the leather.

Inside lay three much-folded documents, so old the edges were worn soft, their outside segments stained dark by long contact with the leather. I screwed up my face in anticipation of catastrophe as Holmes began to unfold the first one, but the seams did not actually part, not completely at any rate. He eased the page open, placing a clean tea-spoon at its head and an unused knife at its foot to keep it flat, and slid it over for me to examine as he set to work on the second.

The stained document before me seemed to be a soldier's clearance certificate, and although the name, along with most of the words, was almost completely obscured by time and salt, it looked to belong to a K-something O'Meara, or O'Mara. The date was unreadable, and could as easily have been the 1700s as the past century—assuming they issued clearance certificates in the 1700s. I turned without much hope to the second document. This was on parchment, and although it appeared even older than the first and had been refolded no less than four times into different shapes, it had been in the center position inside the leather pouch, and was not as badly stained. It concerned the same soldier, whose last name now appeared to be O'Hara, and represented his original enlistment. I could feel Mycroft's eyes on me, but I was no more enlightened than I had bee...

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