[Sherlock Holmes is looking at photographs taken after the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906]
Along the front of the picture, picnics were taking place. A group of young men, some of them hatless but all in ties and tidy suits, sat and lay back on their elbows on the grass around a cloth arranged with sandwich rolls and bottles of lemonade. In the centre of the photograph, with the smoke cloud huge and furious above them and the dapper young men glancing at them from the sides, stood a pair of young women—girls, really— dressed in their spring finery. It might have been an illustration of the careless self-obsession of the young, yet somehow it was not…
The profile of the hill on which the camp was laid was the familiar park a few streets away— Lafayette Park, little more than a grassy knoll with the incongruous house parked among the trees at the top, the whole of it two streets wide and two deep. In the first photo, the grass was a jumble of possessions—bedrolls and steamer trunks, strapped orange-crates and disassembled bed-steads. All the women wore the elaborate hats of the period, and most of the men were missing.
In the next picture in the sequence, a tent city had sprung up in front of the elaborate Victorian houses that faced the park. Here, the rising smoke was closer, possessions had been gathered into rough heaps, and a few canvas tents had been raised, the whiteness of their sides and the unbeaten grass around their bases clear signs that the photograph had been taken soon after they had been installed. The women were mostly bare-headed, and the men had returned, to stand about in their shirt-sleeves.
observations: This is the second entry on the book, and should be read in conjunction with the first, which explains (somewhat) the strange combination of Sherlock Holmes and the young woman, Mary Russell, that he has married. They are investigating possible crimes in San Francisco, where Russell lived as a child until the rest of her family was killed in an accident.
I really enjoyed this book: you might not think so to hear me complain about some aspects, but it’s true. I could have done without the endless food descriptions, people eating meals that have no relevance to the plot, and which I don’t find interesting. Is it just me? It annoys me when two characters are having a conversation, but every line or two has to be punctuated with ‘he took another bite of his chops.’
In addition, King has obviously done endless research into the time period, and then shovels the results in in large doses – but then she’s not alone there, is she, fellow readers? Far too many historical novels could be halved in length with some proper pruning of the lists of what’s on at the theatre and what books people are reading. In this one we have, Ooh crosswords, what are they? ‘Can’t see them catching on myself.’
But I did find the descriptions of the SF earthquake and fire very interesting and informative.
There is quite a lot in the book about the Chinese practice of feng shui, which is a feature of Nury Vittachi’s Mr Wong books. There’s one on the blog here, illustrated, as it happens, with some very nice pictures of San Francisco Chinese restaurants in the early 20th century. Exactly where Russell and Holmes go to eat those endless fragrant meals and discuss the case between bites.
The top pictures are from a contemporary book on the earthquake, and come via Flickr.