Finish-up Febrero Q&A

Friends—for the purposes of Big Announcements and Hazoos we shall consider that the blogaversary (thanks, Corgimom) of this site will be next week.

That gives you all weekend to shop for champagne or cocoa, depending on your taste, and will permit us to finish the month’s Q&As first.

Q: Kathleen asks, This question is actually for the Old Testament historian (if you don’t mind changing hats), and was actually sparked by “A Letter of Mary”–what was the extent of literacy among the Jewish people at the time of Christ? Christ read from the scriptures, several of the apostles (and Mary Magdalene, according to your book) could read and write. This seems to indicate a higher level of literacy among the lower classes than we usually associate with ancient societies; certainly higher than among the same classes during Europe’s Middle Ages. Was it particular to Israel, or did their neighbors have comparable rates?
One reason I love your books is you do bring such interesting questions to mind–but then I need the answers!

A: Uh, I dunno.

However, Judaism is based on written documents, to the extent that the community regards itself as a People of the Book. As such, a high percentage of first-century Jews would have been literate. The bar mitzva rituals of reading in the Temple are far more recent (for that matter, a multiplicity of temples is far more recent than the first century) but even two thousand years ago, Jews and education went hand in hand.

Women, inevitably, were the exception to the rule, but even they were often educated. Archaeological evidence exists of women who were “archesynagoges”, heads of the synagogue, who kept things running and made travelers welcome. And of course we must not forget Beruria, the first century woman rabbi.

One of my long-term projects involves Beruria, but as the song goes—
The door’s not shut
On my genius, but
I just don’t have the time.

Q: from Maria: Glad to hear the BSI meetings went well. On that note, I love your Russell series and was wondering who you base your Holmes on? Doyle, Brett, Rathbone? Your own concept of what the detective would be like. Just curious.

A: If you’re talking physically, somewhere between Brett and Rathbone. Brett caught the tense mannerism a lot better than Rathbone, but having seen him on stage, I have to say he was too short.

Q: Ellen C (I think) brings up an interesting topic: Lately, I’ve been thinking about the convention (and I’m not sure whether it’s purely literary or not) of proving that the perpetrator of a crime is indisputably guilty and then, if that person is of a certain rank or dignity, leaving them alone in a room with a pistol, where they typically oblige their accusers by shooting themselves.

Lord Peter used this strategy in _The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club_ and applied a variant in _Murder Must Advertise_. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read enough of the original Holmes stories to know if he ever resorted to it.

While I can see that encouraging a criminal to commit suicide is appealing on several, not-entirely-civilized levels, it seems inadequate as a solution to the problem of determining and dispensing justice. I’m wondering what Russell thinks of it.

A: The business of a writer using the solution not of an arrest, but of permitting the villain to do The Gentlemanly Thing is tied to just that: the concept of Gentleman.

Gentleman may be villains, but they must never Let Down the Side. Dragging a gentleman to gaol with the rest of the hoodlums drags down the entire class, and the assumption here is that even a gentleman villain is still a gentleman, and cares for his position in the world. It is no doubt related, psychologically if not legally, with the ancient belief that royal blood is sacred and not to be spilt by commoners.

However, remember that Lord Peter is the younger son of a Duke, and the belief in The Gentlemanly Way is in his bones. Holmes (despite much speculation about his origins) and Russell are not of the aristocracy, and would only buy into the whole suicide-as-punishment scenario in unusual circumstances. My friend Les Klinger, expert in All Things Sherlock, answers that no, Holmes never permits anyone to kill himself to avoid prosecution:

“I fact, in ‘Veiled Lodger,’ he stops a suicide. The closest to the spirit of Wimsey is probably a case like “Boscombe Valley Mystery,” where it’s clear that the villain’s diabetes will kill him soon anyway. Of course, it’s frequent that Holmes doesn’t arrest the bad guy: E.g., in ‘The Devil’s Foot,’ he lets him go back to Africa, in ‘The Blue Carbuncle,’ he decides that the bad’un will never sin again; in ‘Abbey Grange,’ he decides on his own that the murder was self-defense.”

So Holmes is ready enough to be judge and jury, but doesn’t see suicide as a happy alternative to keep a gentleman out of the papers. And I’d say Russell has even less belief in the special treatment of aristocrats as a class.

Q: I think the Holmes/Russell energy really lends itself to the short story medium. Have you thought about publishing an anthology based on some of their adventures?

A: I find that a short story takes nearly as much energy to write as an entire novel. Which means I could write twelve or fifteen novels in the time it took to write a book of short stories. So the answer is no, I hadn’t thought much of it.

Q: Nikki asks, Is Holmes still out there, or should Mary’s marital status be widow? 😉

A: Nikki is referring to Mary Russell’s listing on Myspace, where she states she is married. I suppose that is fact, as I can’t imagine Russell either delusional or lying. And as has been pointed out, Holmes’ obituary has never appeared in The Times of London, so clearly he is not yet dead.

That royal jelly is great stuff.


A: Dave isn’t asking here about gay rights, he’s asking a business question, which is fair enough. And it’s probably true, writing the Martinelli stories has probably lost me a few readers, who are offended by homosexuality. Certainly it’s lost me some Hollywood nibbles over the years, although it’s possible that H’wood is beginning to decide that Middle America isn’t completely in the grip of Queer Fear, and that every lesbian character isn’t by definition an ice-pick murderer.

Having said that, I need to point out that the Martinellis have been the series that has won prizes and nominations. And that beginning my career with an Edgar award for Best First Novel has meant that people take me more seriously as a writer (not, I trust, as a person) than if I had started my writing career with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which would have forever stamped me as That Woman Who Writes the Books About Sherlock Holmes and the Girl.

But down deep inside? Deep down inside I need to write the characters as they have appeared to me. I can’t know what I would have done if my first editor (Ruth Cavin of St Martin’s, blessed be she) had told me, “I’ll buy this book if you rewrite it with Kate heterosexual.” I like to think I would have said no because it would have done violence to the character. I’m pretty sure I would have said no because that extensive a revamp would have given me a nervous breakdown.

But down deep inside? Kate’s orientation has enriched my life in too many ways for me to regret whatever choices the back of my mind made in putting her together. And that is worth a percentage of sales any day.

Posted in


  1. Roxanne on February 9, 2007 at 7:45 pm


    You write, “Kate’s orientation has enriched my life in too many ways for me to regret whatever choices the back of my mind made in putting her together.”

    That is a very interesting statement. I wonder, in what ways has “Kate’s orientation” enriched your life?

    (Okay, okay–I know that is a question. One that will keep until next month …)

  2. caitlin on February 9, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    >>That royal jelly is great stuff.<< Speaking of royal jelly, my mom found a cartoon you might like, if you haven’t already seen it. Sorry, I forgot how to make a link. Here’s the address:


  3. Maria on February 10, 2007 at 4:49 am

    Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for answering my question! I thought of Brett when I read your novels. The way you Holmes acts and his expressions seem Brettish (well to me anyway).

    There is a photo out there from the Granada series of Brett that was taken while they were filming a retirement scene that never aired. He’s in his bee rig and I swear I see your Holmes in that photo. I’ll post the link if anyone wants to see it.

    Wait wasn’t Brett like 6’2? *shrugs*

    Thanks again for answering my question! See you at the blog party!

  4. Wimindance on February 10, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    And knowing Kate’s creator, through the books and blog, has enriched my life. Thanks, Laurie.


  5. vicki on February 10, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I must admit I am gaga about the Russell/Holmes series and not so much for the Martinelli’s. It isn’t because of the gay stuff, just the ambiance of old London compared to that of Modern California. I loved “O, Jerusalem” because of that wonderful, magical place, too. I felt myself there with every twist and turn of the plot. I can’t get that enamored with the places in Kate’s world.

    Hope you have a great year and continue to write your wonderful tales. You capture every bit of my adventurous soul with your novels. Thanks.

  6. Bronwyn on February 11, 2007 at 1:46 am

    While I do like both series, I must admit to being a holmes fan more, for the same reason as Vicki. I like to read a book and be swept away in it all, and the russell series definitely does it for me (especially O Jerusalem!) I am also attached to Kate and her family, but not in the same way. I do look forward to whatever new book you’re writing; I know I’ll enjoy it no matter what the series! (Except possibly if you start writing futuristic robot-based sci-fi. I might have to skip that, heh.)

  7. Bronwyn on February 11, 2007 at 1:57 am

    Oh, a very strang question. What shoe size do you wear? I found an extremely cool sock pattern that made me think of you instantly! You can either answer on the blog (since I know you don’t do email) or just expect a pair sized to fit roughly 7.5-9 if you’d rather not say. It’ll take a while though!

    (Feeling like a big dork, right about now.)

  8. Trix on February 11, 2007 at 3:54 am

    I think the number of people who like suspense stories featuring strong independent (feminist?) primary female characters AND who would be put off by the gay element in the Martinelli books would be fairly small, actually.

    Also, it works the other way. I’ll take a punt on a new author tackling lesbian themes because they are obviously not homophobic, and hopefully not into sexist crap. For me, it’s a better “risk” to take than than books written by straight men for other straight men featuring the character development of Conan the Barbarian.

    While I think the Martinelli books are good, I love the Russell books and especially the San Juan books. But it might have taken a bit longer for me to get to them without that level of “trust” built up by the exellent tackling of the lesbian element earlier (although I’m sure I would have picked them up at some point).

    So, here’s one reader who was “recruited” by the willingness to look at gay stuff. I’m probably not the only one, and maybe we serve to counterbalance the few who like feisty Russell and are fine with her somewhat unusual relationship configuration, but who can’t cope with a hint of same-sex committment.

    I can understand why the readership of the two main series might not totally overlap, but I think it would mainly be due to those who like the historical and Holmesian element vs those who like the contemporary procedural-ish plotting.

  9. poodlerat on February 11, 2007 at 5:00 am

    I think one of the greatest things about Kate is that I don’t think of her as a lesbian – just as a female cop. It’s so great to read about a gay character and not have her sexual orientation define her whole identity, or be the main focus of the book.

    I do admit to liking the Russell books more, though. My favourite stories tend to be set either in the past or in other cultures, which probably has a lot to do with why I love O, Jerusalem and The Game so much. Russell writes such great travel diaries…

  10. Maria on February 11, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    I have been pondering this for days now since one of us asked if Holmes is still out there. Someone, mentioned Holmes’s death the other day because the beginning of BEEK refers to Holmes in the past tense. I was just thinking (pleading actually)..please don’t write Holmes’s death. I don’t think may fans, or Russell, could handle it. *goes all soft and sniffles*

    Of course I will bring this up again next month..

    *continues to sniffle*

    Thanks again for spending time with your fans. It is great to know you are interested in us! *sniffles again*

  11. bluestockingsrs on February 12, 2007 at 1:13 am

    I love the Martinelli series, but I love Russell more because she is the culmination of the fantasy I had as a little girl madly in love with Holmes.

    My best friend and I pretended to be Holmes and Watson in elementary school. We were as intimate friends as they are, or at least believed ourselves to be.

    I read the Russell books when I was single and dreamed of having a partnership in life and love like Holmes and Russell. Now that I have found that partnership, I am reminded of that childhood fantasy about Holmes.

    I think it is interesting, since I am a lesbian, that people write that they don’t “think” of Kate as a lesbian. I never know what that means exactly. For me, being a lesbian is just one part of who I am. I am also a daughter, a sister and a girlfriend.

    Why should it be any different for Kate? If being a lesbian feels too central to my existence to other people, it is not because I have made it so, but because I am denied full participation as a citizen by virtue of my sexual orientation. My sexual orientation was put into issue by the folks who would oppress me because of it, not the other way round.

    My life is improved by knowing these characters Laurie has created, and for that I am grateful.

    Oh! and I saw you at the market this past Christmas Eve and resisted being a silly fan by saying hello. But it was a great surprise nevertheless!

  12. Roxanne on February 12, 2007 at 1:57 pm


    You are so funny. Your sniffly comment had me laughing first thing this morning. (Not at you, but with you.)

    My daughter and I have read some of the fan fiction stories that feature Holmes’ death. They had us both sobbing and sniffling. As silly as I feel admitting that, I can understand why some twenty thousand of Conan Doyle’s fans canceled their subscriptions to the Strand magazine when that author “killed off” Holmes.

    BTW: Jeremy Brett was 6’1″.

  13. Ann on February 12, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for addressing the issue of literacy in Christ’s time. I had been wondering about it since there are many Scripture passages about Jesus reading in the Temple and there is also much emphasis on how Mary and Joseph were poor. It seemed odd that He would have been literate. I have been “hooked” on the Russell series since I read the first one a few years ago.

  14. bani on February 12, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I like both Russell and Martinelli, but tbh I enjoyed the stand-alone novels Folly and Keeping Watch an awful lot… It’s this penchant I have for WW1, what can I say.

  15. tegloff on February 13, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Thanks very much for answering my ‘anonymous’ question about the short story format; I understand your reason for not investing the time and effort, and appreciate the effort…still, if you ever got around to writing those short stories… 🙂

  16. Hanna Wallsten on February 13, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Best Laurie King,
    I am so very happy that you made Kate a lesbian or I would never have discovered your writing at all. As a lesbian I am always on the lookout for caracters in both books and movies that I can identify with. Kate is up on the very top as she is bright and fearless. I have not read the latest (I hope not last) novel about her but I did buy it as I was in the states last week. I live in Sweden and it is sad to say that not all your books have been translated.
    Hanna Wallsten

  17. corgimom on February 14, 2007 at 3:05 am

    What a great thread of comments! Not to be a spoiler or anything, but it IS Tuesday, already. So:
    Champagne–not so much.
    Chocolate–Oh Yes!
    Red Wine–Definitely

    Blogaversary Party?…..

Leave a Comment