Suspense!

Self adores the vampire references, the creepy castle. This book has a Gothic feel — are all the others like that? It’s her first Laurie R. King. She is prolific, Castle Shade is #17 in her Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series. The characters are charming (though hardly affectionate). Self loves the supernatural lore, and the historical context.

Slight digression: What a gorgeous day today was! The sun was out, strong and warm. There were no groups of wandering high schoolers on El Camino. Self wondered if schools had gone back to remote learning in light of omicron.

Chapter Nine

I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, but I had been dreaming. Dracula again, with horse-drawn carriages and dancing blue flames. I turned irritably on the pillow, puling it down under my head — and froze.

Was that wolves?

I jerked up from the pillow, straining to hear, feeling the ghostly stickiness of drying blood on my palms. A long minute ticked by . . . then yes, it came again, a distant howl, unearthly in the night.

Finally, They Arrive!

Holmes and Mary Russell arrive at their destination, a CREEPY CASTLE with a CREEPY, SUPERCILIOUS BUTLER (named Florescu, self is inclined to pronounce the name with a French accent)

Self is all agog. She only wishes Holmes and Mary Russell could behave like married people. Maybe not PDAs. But what is the POINT of having Sherlock Holmes MARRIED if he doesn’t behave like it?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Which One Is the Vampire?

This is a question self never imagined herself asking, never in the course of her very long reading life.

She asks it now because Queen Marie of Roumania is a very mysterious person.

There have been hints that it is she: she is the vampire.

Here are the facts: Whenever the Queen spends time in her summer home, Castle Bran, people die or go missing. Once, “a twelve-year-old scullery maid was preparing vegetables in the castle kitchen and sliced open her hand . . . the Queen was passing and heard the child cry out. She went to see what was wrong, seized a bowl to protect the child’s clothing, and started to bind the injury with a dishcloth.”

People who happened upon the scene saw this: “a young girl bleeding copiously into a crockery bowl . . . apparently half-filled with blood.”

As soon as the Queen left at the end of the summer, the series of occurrences ceased.

Further, whenever the Queen is expected, a man goes about the village, instructing the villagers that their dogs should be kept “inside or tied.” The Queen likes to go riding, and if a dog happens to frighten “her horse and makes her fall, that dog will be shot and the family will go to prison.”

Self is completely hooked on this combination vampire/Sherlock Holmes mystery!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Riding on Trains with Holmes

Self has been reading this book for a few days, and she’s only at p. 30. Why? In general, her reading pace seems to have slowed (Six books a month is her average). Perhaps because the past holidays made her broody? She means, broodier than usual? Pandemic Year 2 was a rough year.

In the past 30 pages, Holmes and Russell are (ostensibly married, though they haven’t touched each other once — guess theirs is a marriage of the minds!) on a train. They’ve been on a train since p. 1. While our two leads are riding trains, self had ample opportunity to learn about:

  • vampires
  • Castle Bran
  • Queen Marie of Romania

In fact, she looked up pictures of Castle Bran on Instagram. It exists! And what a name for a castle. (She keeps thinking of Bram Stoker)

Then she googled “Queen Marie of Romania” and found that the Queen died of cirrhosis at 63. Oops. Not quite the image self got from Castle Shade! Her eldest son usurped the throne and made her a virtual prisoner. That must have broken her. She was a smart woman, much smarter than her husband. The Rumanians loved her. Life just isn’t fair.

Meanwhile, there is no indication from p. 30 that this train journey is approaching an end. Which is just fantastic, as our two mains get to discuss Mycroft (Though self hasn’t read a Sherlock Holmes mystery in decades, she does know who Mycroft is!). Oh, and here’s a passage about time passing on trains. Self really likes the way Laurie R. King describes it:

We rode the train — indeed, we rode a number of trains — for what seemed like days. We passed through cities, mountains, farmland, while the restless fever rose again and pulled me into sleep. I would wake, and follow Holmes into the restaurant car, then return to my seat and my stupor. Holmes would be there, then gone, then there again.

When I woke, countryside was passing by, bright fields beneath a blazing sun.

Castle Shade, Chapter Six, p. 30

Sentence of the Day: 3rd Monday of 2022

  • In late 1917, the Bolsheviks swept across Russia, murdering Marie’s cousin (Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and all his family, lining up the army’s officers for execution, leaving Roumania a tiny island surrounded by enemies who snarled over her bones and sent assassins after the royal family.

But this is a love story, dear blog readers. A love story between English-born Princess Marie of Roumania (Why is it spelled that way in this book?) and her adopted homeland.

Hugely enjoying Castle Shade (“a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes”). The pair are headed to Transylvania. Aside from the historical bits there have been discussion of vampires.

Exciting.

Stay tuned.

Vampire Lore: Self Learns New Things Every Day

“Sprinkling mustard seeds over a floor or roof keeps the creature too busy counting to go further.”

— Sherlock Holmes to Mary Russell in Castle Shade, p. 22

Setting

Husband and wife discuss:

“What awaits us in Bucharest, anyway?”

“Not Bucharest.”

“No?”

“A village near the town of Brasov, in Transylvania.”

“Transyl. Good God.” I stared at him. If Roumania was a realm of dragons, then the province of Transylvania would be the creature’s lair: dark, mysterious, and potentially deadly. There was a reason why Bram Stoker chose it as the home of his ancient vampire — a novel that has given me nightmares even before I knew I was going there.

“It is actually quite a pleasant piece of countryside, Holmes insisted. “Mineral resources, rich agricultural valleys, the Carpathians for defense. A fascinating source of folkloric traditions and superstitions.”

“One assumes their farmers grow plenty of garlic.”

Castle Shade, Chapter Two

Self’s Intro to Author Laurie R. King

Is apparently this book, No. 17 in King’s Sherlock Holmes + Mary Russell mysteries.

No. 17.

Self knows she needs to come clean: She could not read to the end of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days. She could not read past the Russians belligerently recruiting Arvid Harnack (while Mildred is out of town, in Copenhagen — but could she have made a difference? But could the Russians have been a little less showy with their knocking on the Harnacks’ door with not the slightest compunction about informants? After all the trouble the Heaths took to have their 11-year-old disguise the Harnacks’ activities! Self couldn’t stand those Russian thugs.)

Anyhoo, Castle Shade reads fresh. She can’t believe it’s the 17th in a series. She confesses that, in the beginning, she found the idea of a married Sherlock Holmes a little far-fetched, but once she started reading, she found the scenes between MR and SH very crisp. Story’s got a fascinating setting, too: it starts on a train headed to Dracula’s castle! Yes, that’s right: the intrepid pair are headed to Romania. Oooh! Stay tuned.

The Audacity, Oh the Audacity!

Donald Heath calls his wife and son back to Berlin (they’d taken refuge in Oslo after Germany invaded Poland) and then breaks it to his wife: their eleven-year-old son will be the courier for messages between Donald and Mildred Harnack. It takes Louise Heath several days to agree.

This is what happens: the Heaths and the Harnacks meet for a picnic in the Spreewald, “a heavily-wooded area sixty miles southeast of Berlin.” Don Jr. is “dressed for the part: black short pants, tan knee socks, tan shirt, and a black cap — the uniform of the Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitlerjugend — a division of Hitler Youth for boys between ten and fourteen.”

Don Jr. “runs up ahead . . . he is always the lookout.” When he spots “Germans in uniform,” he remembers his father’s instructions and bursts into song:

Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festern Schritt!

(Imagine teaching your 11-year-old to sing Hitler Youth songs! That is why self chose the title that she did for this post)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Cable, Donald Heath to US Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau

Morgenthau’s decision to send Donald Heath to Berlin turns out to be god-level.

24 April 1939:

The (US) Embassy has received reliable information that the German Embassy in London has been informed by (Neville) Chamberlain that Great Britain is prepared to release to the Reich most of the Czech gold reserves which was on deposit in London . . . This news is surprising to Reich officials who look on it with somewhat amused disdain. They interpret it as an indication that Chamberlain is still inclined to gestures of “appeasement” and a belief that financial enticements can be used to buy off the Reich.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 294

Neville Chamberlain absolutely capitulated to Hitler. He was the Kevin McCarthy of 1939. And Donald Heath was no dummy.

War breaks out. Germany invades Poland. Most of the US Embassy packs up and heads home, but Donald stays. He sends his wife and son to Oslo for their safety.

Louise and Don are in Oslo through September and October. On Nov. 4, Louise receives a telegram from her husband: COME BACK TO BERLIN.

If Louise knew WHY Donald suddenly wanted them both back to Berlin, she probably wouldn’t have agreed!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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