Island of the Mad
Island of the Mad is the latest installment in Laurie R. King’s popular mystery series set in the 1920s, featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Mary Russell. Mary receives a call from her Oxford friend, Veronica Beaconsfield, asking her to investigate the disappearance of Veronica’s aunt Vivian, who has spent most of her adult life in various insane asylums. Vivian has gone missing from Bedlam, along with her nurse and some family jewels. Mary gets herself temporarily committed to Bedlam to look for Vivian’s medical records, which tell her that Vivian had been staying there voluntarily, at least until her disappearance. The trail of clues leads Mary to Venice, and to Elsa Maxwell and her elaborate parties on the Lido. Vivian had been an avid partygoer before her commitment to Bedlam, and Mary thinks she may be mingling with the rich and famous.
Meanwhile, Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, asks him to investigate the rise of Fascism in Italy. Holmes and Mary witness an attack by Mussolini’s Blackshirts on their first night in Venice, and they soon discover that Vivian’s older brother, who has expressed sympathy for Fascism, has followed her. He was responsible for her committal, and she has always been terrified of him. Once they discover where Vivian is, will they be able to protect her from her brother?
King conveys the atmosphere of Venice in the Roaring Twenties wonderfully well. The book held special interest for me, because I have recently been to Venice and stayed on the Lido. Even though it is no longer the playground for the rich that it was in the 1920s, I could picture all the locations. In spite of heavy themes such as mental illness and Fascism, this book has a lighter tone than its immediate predecessor. I highly recommend it.