The game is afoot, but it's Mary Russell on the case rather than the pipe-smoking guy wearing the deerstalker hat.

Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance in the Mary Russell mystery series by Laurie R. King. He even gets a little more attention in "Locked Rooms," the 2005 novel being read by Brentwood residents in the Brentwood Reads program. It is Russell, however, who sparks the imagination of the Santa Cruz writer scheduled to talk about her series Sunday at the Brentwood Community Center.

Russell is a young female version of the famous Scotland Yard sleuth. King's first Mary Russell story introduced the heroine as his 15-year-old apprentice in "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" in 1994. Over the course of 11 books the pair have done a lot of traveling, a lot of sleuthing, and even found time to marry.

When Mary Russell first hit the scene, "there was suspicion on the part of devout Sherlockians," King said. But since then she has been inducted as a member of the famous, invitation-only Baker Street Irregulars. "They don't even throw tomatoes when I show up," she joked.

"Locked Rooms," the eighth in the Mary Russell series, finds the protagonist in San Francisco in the 1920s dealing with her father's estate and a tangle of memories from her childhood there. Dashiell Hammett shows up to help Holmes (who gets a bit more to investigate in this tale) unravel a past that includes the 1906 earthquake and plenty of danger for Russell.

"It enabled me to write a lot about the idea of how memories can go away," King said of the book.


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It also allowed her to use the idea of the unreliable narrator -- a storyteller who may not be telling the entire story. "That's what you begin to suspect with Mary Russell. She's the sort of person who always assumes that her mind is trustworthy, and she's alarmed to find out it isn't."

"Locked Rooms" is the first in the series told from outside Russell's perspective. "This is the first time you see her through the eyes of Sherlock," King said.

King, who does some general historical research before writing and then checks her details later, was happy to discover her story was set at a time and place when Russell and Holmes might have run into famous detective novelist Hammett. Of course they had to meet in her story.

"It's extraordinary how familiar the Twenties feel," she said.

It's not the history alone that draws King to her stories, she said. The Russell series has allowed her to explore topics such as feminism and Christianity and the roots of the conflict in the Middle East. It helps that Holmes and Russell travel a lot. The latest book in the series, "Garment of Shadows," finds an amnesia-ridden Russell in Morocco.

Brentwood readers, however, won't have to travel far for the adventure in "Locked Rooms."

Many of the San Francisco locales in the book still exist today. King hopes her stories take readers not just to a different time.

"What you are looking for as a reader is not just a story about a strange period of time, but familiar characters in a strange situation."

IF YOU GO
What: Brentwood Reads Author Talk with Mary King, author of "Locked Rooms"
When: 2 to 3 p.m. Oct. 21
Where: Brentwood Community Center, 35 Oak St.
Information: 925-516-5290