Mary Russell, American-born wife to Sherlock Holmes, signs on as assistant to the film crew in the heyday of silent movies. The script is a movie within a movie about The Pirates of Penzance. Russell’s assignment, straight from Scotland Yard, is to discover the whereabouts of the woman who held her job before and suddenly vanished as well as to ferret out the strange coincidences in cocaine and rum running that have haunted previous projects of this company’s attempts to wedge in on Hollywood’s monopoly of such blockbusters as The Sheikh. The tale is even punctuated by black screens posting dialogue as it wends its way – by pirate ship of course, in the end – from Portugal and finally Morocco.
I caught the appearance of Fernando Pessoa, that contemporary – and real – Portuguese literary figure who wrote poetry under half a dozen personas and appreciated his delicious romp within the movie within a movie. That is the level of keen intelligent humor I expect from King. Alas, not much of the rest of the novel matched up. I suppose there’s little else one can do with a shipload of the Modern Major General’s blonde, blue-eyed daughters – named alphabetically A-M for convenience – and their stage mothers. And A-L pirates and A-L constables added to the cardboard histrionics. I would not have objected quite so much had I not detected an unsavory whiff of Arab bashing the intensity of the plot in O Jerusalem forgave, but which caricatures stood up in black-and-white here. A great disappointment.