Island of the Mad is the second book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King that I'm reviewing on this blog. The first was Dreaming Spies whose review can be found here. In Island of the Mad, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes conduct their investigations in Venice which is under the rule of Mussolini. I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Net Galley and this is my honest review.
The cover of this novel is lovely. Some readers have mistaken the elegant woman on the cover for Mary Russell herself, but I've been reliably informed that the author denies that this is an image of her heroine.
For Mary Russell, this is a missing person case that begins in England. She is searching for a college friend's aunt who had been consigned to Bedlam. Holmes accompanies Russell, but he is on a mission for his brother, Mycroft. Holmes' investigation brings an espionage element into the book. The involvement of American musician Cole Porter adds extra interest.
Yet it was the disappeared Aunt Vivian who really held my attention. She is an independent minded woman. Desiring independence was still considered enough of a sin against convention that she might well be committed to an institution for that alone, but there are secrets motivating the missing woman that Mary Russell will uncover as part of the process of finding her. Aunt Vivian's sketches provide clues. I thought it was fascinating that Vivian used her sketchbook as a sort of diary.
Although there is a slow section, the dramatic resolution of Island of the Mad more than makes up for it. There are some feminist themes and the fascist environment provides relevant political commentary for our contemporary times. I think that Island of the Mad should be considered one of the best books in Laurie R. King's Russell/Holmes series.