The discussion questions above and the research section below may be helpful, but if you’re looking for ways to work the novels into your curriculum, some suggestions are here:
Novels, if honestly researched and carefully written, make valuable springboards for studies in a number of areas outside English lit. History, women’s studies, comparative religion, politics, technology—all enter into Laurie King’s novels. Here are some suggestions for how a few of the novels might fit into the curriculum.
The Mary Russell Books
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1915-1919) The Great War looms large in the book—the sound of the big guns heard from the Sussex coast, rationing and civilian work, the daily disruption of normality, VAD nursing, and the women’s movement all enter the story line.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1921) Russell comes of age. Women’s rights and social welfare in London, feminism and religion, and the lasting social and psychological effects of the Great War, for civilians and soldiers.
A Letter of Mary (1923) The letter of the title is an ancient document that seems to say Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles. The religious and social sensibilities of the 1920s meet up with Russell’s studies of academic theology, touching lightly upon first-century Christianity.
O Jerusalem (1919) Set in the early days of the British mandate of Palestine, the decisions made there by such men as General Allenby and T. E. Lawrence laid the groundwork for the Middle East we see today. Before the War, Christian, Muslim, and Jew co-existed without too much difficulty; under the British, they were soon in deadly rivalry. This book is set at that historical turning point.
Justice Hall (1923) The British aristocracy through the huge post-war changes and the experience of shell shock (PTSD).
The Game (1924) The Victorian Cold war. Set on India’s north-west frontier, which eighty years ago faced most of the same issues it does now. The book also touches on an earlier age of political intrigue and border skirmishes, made famous by Rudyard Kipling as “The Great Game.”
Garment of Shadows (1924) looks at the beginnings of colonial revolt in north Africa, with the Rif Rebellion under the French in Morocco.
Stuyvesant & Grey
Touchstone (set in 1926) looks at England during the General Strike and explores the question of why a person performs an act of terrorism.
The Kate Martinelli Books
A Grave Talent Kate Martinelli, with the San Francisco Police Department, encounters a “woman Rembrandt,” and wrestles with the question of why there have been so few great women artists.
To Play the Fool finds a “holy fool” in modern society, with questions raised about monastic self-discipline, the dangers of an overly structured society, our responsibility to the homeless, and religion as both freedom and straight-jacket.
With Child explores the issues of homeless adolescents and the creatures that prey upon them.
The Stand-Alone Novels
A Darker Place explores how a religion is built, when a “cult” becomes mainstream, and the psychological makeup of those who join.
Folly is the story of a psychologically troubled woman who goes to a deserted Pacific Northwest island to rebuild the house of her great-uncle, a man damaged by his experiences in the Great War. The actual wood-and stones building of the house forms the paradigm of her rebuilding of her life, from the foundation up, and the island solitude leads her to a community.
Keeping Watch, also set partly in the Pacific Northwest, follows the lives of Allen Carmichael, who barely survives the devastation of the Vietnam War, and of young Jamie O’Connell, survivor of a devastating childhood. What makes a killer? Why does one person succumb, while another stands against oppression, and finds the strength to help others?