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Dreaming Spies: 10/14/15
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King is the thirteenth Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery. Actually it's two mysteries in one: one set in Japan between The Game and Locked Doors, and one set back in England immediately following Locked Doors.
En route to Japan, Holmes (in disguise as Mr. Russell) and Russell, meet a mysterious young Japanese woman. Meanwhile, they are aware of a blackmail plot happening aboard ship. And there might have been a murder, as a passenger has gone missing. The key to unwrapping these mysteries seems to lie in the hands of their new friend, Hiruki.
The adventure this time has three parts: the ship, Japan, and back home in England. The strongest part of the book is the England part where Russell is in her element, books, libraries, and forgeries. I really wish more time had spent in this part of the story.
Instead, though, most of the time is spent in Japan, following Batosa's pilgrimage route, and later riding by train to Tokyo. The biggest problem is just in the extended juggling act of outlining how exotic Japan is (compared to English and American sensibilities) while showing cultural sensitivity (of the "look, I did my homework" variety). And yet there are numerous times that the Japanese "Engrish" shows up, Japanese food is criticized, and so forth. On their pilgrimage, Russell and Holmes make complete asses of themselves and seem perplexed that the people they meet are less than forthcoming with offers of help.
And then to outdo the most ridiculous fan service type anime ever, Holmes and Russell get to learn the reason for the pilgrimage and finally meet their client. And get this, they do it in a mixed gender onsen. Seriously?! OK, sure, Churchill met people whilst in the bath, but, a future emperor meeting complete strangers from a distant land (even ones with such international reputations) while at an onsen?
And then... the crown prince, after Russell has time to clear the purple lines of doom / embarrassment from her face, speaks in Engrish. Why can't he just be given normally written dialog with a slight aside about his accent?
For a better exchange of Japanese and European cultures and culture shock, I recommend the animé Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth. It's the story of a young girl from Japan being apprenticed to a glass blower in Paris. It takes place a few years before Dreaming Spies but gets the period feel of Japan's interest in western culture better.
So really and truly, the book would have done a better presentation of Japan of 90 years ago by glossing over the actual trip through the country and putting the focus on the shenanigans on the ship, and the post mortem at Oxford. The only truly necessary scene in Japan is the one at the ball where Russell and Holmes fail utterly and completely. The book, frankly, should have started there and then gone back to the ship and then forward to England.