March 29, 2005

The Game, by Laurie R. King

This is latest of King's Mary Russell mysteries to come out in paperback, and it's a worthy addition to the series. More a thriller than a mystery, it takes Russell and Holmes to India to look for a missing British agent named Kimball O'Hara. Kipling fans will recognize O'Hara as the young hero of Kipling's novel Kim, though by the time of this story he's a full-grown man.

The title of the book is a reference to the "Great Game"--a cold war of espionage, bribery, and dirty tricks between Russia and England that spanned much of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. The nature of this war is simply put: England had India, with its wealth and warm water ports, and Russia wanted it.

In two ways, the book's title is a bit of wishful thinking on King's part. First, the Great Game was really pretty much over by the time Russell and Holmes are supposed to have arrived in India, a few years after WWI; but I suppose we can't blame her for that. More seriously, most of the action of the Great Game took place not in India but in the shadowy regions to the North--in Tibet, in Afghanistan, and in that broad stretch of Centra Asia known variously as High Tartary, Chinese Turkestan, and Sinkiang or Xinjiang (take your pick).

Poetic license to the side, I must say that King did her homework. She does an excellent job of capturing the feel and atmosphere of the latter days of the Raj, especially as regards the odd sport of pig-sticking (she draws on a treatise written by Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, of all unlikely people); she also draws extensively from Peter Hopkirk's excellent history The Great Game, which I highly recommend. Follow the link for our list of Hopkirk's books--interestingly, it's the #1 Google hit for Peter Hopkirk. Just goes to show, Hopkirk's not nearly as well known as he should be.

Bottom-line: I liked it.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 29, 2005 08:11 PM