Technically, this is the second Mary Russell book, but it's the one I began the series with. I started with this book because the mystery involving a church run entirely by women really interested me. Plus, I had been told that King does a great job of incorporating women's history into her story-lines. This really intrigued me, as I was curious to see what aspects of the 1920's era King would incorporate into the narrative.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women begins with Mary about to turn 21, an age she has been eager to reach, as it means assuming full control over her inheritance. In addition to her birthday, Mary is also close to receiving her degree in theology from Oxford. So, when a friend from the university joins a church run exclusively by women Mary is fascinated. Agreeing to attend one of the sermons, Mary acts as a skeptical observer watching Margery Childe, the leader of the church. Mary quickly finds herself talked into returning to the church on a regular basis in order to teach Margery another language. During these lessons, Mary begins to notice some odd occurrences. Slowly, the deaths of several church members (written off as accidents) begin to surface, along with strange reports of Margery miraculously healing herself from extensive injuries. All of which leads Mary to investigating the church and it's leader.
Mary was pretty kick-ass in this one. She spends a lot of the book working by herself on the case with Sherlock Holmes only popping in and out of the narrative until close to the end. This is largely due to the fight they have near the beginning of the novel, but also because both Mary and Holmes are at an odd moment in their relationship and neither seem to know what to do about it. I loved Mary's internal struggle around Holmes. It really fit her character to be so up in the air concerning the potential shift in the dynamics of their relationship. Holmes' own realization that Mary is seeing him differently is pretty on-key as well. Aside from all this, Mary also goes through a pretty traumatizing experience that really allows the strength of her character to shine. I was pretty impressed with how King used that experience to incorporate one of Holmes demons into the narrative without making it feel contrived or forced.
My only problem with the book came from how, at times, it lagged. Mostly, this was when the theological discussions would get a little too dense for me, but things generally picked back up quick. Really, this was just an awesome read. Highly recommended.