Author Laurie R. King
I wish Laurie R. King had been writing her Mary Russell novels when I was 13.That would be impossible since I have a sneaking suspicion we are around the same age. But I would have loved to have had a character like Mary Russell when I was around 13. Or 12. Or 15. Or any of those ages when I was devouring just about everything my hometown library had. I breezed through the most interesting books in the children’s library and by the time I was ready for more, there just didn’t seem to be anything that interested me.
Most girls my age would have immediately latched onto Nancy Drew. I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I didn’t. Maybe my library didn’t have them. Maybe they just didn’t interest me (though I can’t imagine that). Maybe they were checked out at the time. So instead I turned to Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Mary Roberts Rhinehart. My mother was a big mystery fan and she had these wonderful hardcovers that were something like 59 cents. They were a wonderful introduction to mysteries. If only Mary Russell would have been around. This would have been not only a heroine I could admire but also someone around my age. Someone who could have been not just a character but also a friend. I would have read every one of Mary’s adventures, probably reread them and then started on Sherlock Holmes.
Fortunately, Mary Russell is around for this generation and future generations of girls. I firmly believe that these novels will go the distance—that they will be read 30 years from now, and maybe beyond that. King’s Mary Russell novels were the first ones I recommended when a friend of my husband’s asked me for mystery suggestions for her 12-year-old. They also often are the first ones I recommend when women readers say they want something intelligent but not violent. (Actually, I have a lot of mystery authors whom I can recommend who fit that criteria.)
King’s Mary Russell novels go across generations. By the way, my profile of Laurie R. King is the cover of the Spring 2009 Issue of Mystery Scene. She was a delight to chat with. Her latest Mary Russell is The Language of Bees.
I also am going to start recommending The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It’s about an 11-year-old aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce, a bright, lonely girl who just feels alienated from her family. Some of the books she reads and the quotes she references are not in the lexicon of most 21st century girls. But I think a bright child would enjoy the connection to Flavia. I think I would have.
This article originally appeared on the MS Blog May 24, 2009.