New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King returns this February with Dreaming Spies—the newest novel in her critically acclaimed and beloved Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. The intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.
Today, we are thrilled to have Laurie R. King as our guest blogger. And, she’s about to make a shocking confession!
Larceny in the Library
Time for a confession: in my heart of hearts, I believe that libraries exist solely to support my life of crime.
Yes: I steal, abashedly and wholeheartedly. Not the physical books, of course—that would be mere thievery. Nor are mine the crude acts of plagiary, that land-grab of intellectual real estate. No: I am a crime writer, and my plunder occupies that world. What I steal from a library’s books is their weight, their content, their very essence. I slip quietly in, gather up the gems of ideas and images, the idiosyncratic characters and clever, evocative phrases, and then I leave, having made them my own.
When it comes to my larcenous triumphs, I am not only unrepentant, I frankly boast about them. Such as the time when I was casting around for a point of intersection between the British Raj and the traditional Indian ruling classes, some key societal niche that my characters could infiltrate—and like the magicians they are, the McHenry Library’s blessed reference librarians found me a 1923 treatise penned by Baden-Powell (yes, the Baden-Powell, inventor of Boy Scouts) titled Pigsticking: or, Hoghunting; A Complete Account for Huntsmen, and Others. Being one of the Others for whom the book was designed, I stole his work outright, and pigsticking transformed the entire plot of The Game. Or the time when an autobiography of the artist Man Ray, again freely handed over to me by a too-trusting library, held elements of a character that I instantly plundered, working them into Ray’s persona in The Bones of Paris.
In neither case did the unsuspecting library have so much as a clue that the books I returned to their shelves had been stripped of their content by an unscrupulous crime writer.
However, my confession here is not simply a general one of influences and resources. Rather, it concerns a specific and terrible crime: in my next novel, with malice aforethought, one of the characters steals a book from (gasp!) Oxford’s very own Bodleian Library. The book lies at the center of the novel itself: a Japanese folding book of illustrated poetry—Basho and Hokusai—given by a Prince to a King, and lodged in the Bodleian for safekeeping. As the narrator puts it:
The Bodleian was no lending library. Not even Oliver Cromwell had been permitted to take a volume past its doors. Bodley guarded its treasures closely. It had much practice in making certain that its books did not wander out, depending less on the fervent Latin oath taken by its users than on the sharp eyes and incorruptible passions of the staff. One does not browse the stacks in Bodley: one sits in one of the reading rooms and awaits requested volumes. The further one presses into the labyrinth, the more difficult passage becomes.
But not impossible.
Reader, a book is stolen from those hallowed shelves.
The crime preyed on my mind, until I sought forgiveness, in an email to The Librarians of the Bodleian. They, generous spirits all, freely granted absolution for my (fictional) misdemeanors against the Divine Treasure House of Knowledge. They did not even require penance of me (although I shall make them a contrite offering, in the form of a copy of the finished book.) But in the spirit of true atonement, to feel restored to the grace of the world of books, I must make public my crime.
In 1925, when Dreaming Spies takes my protagonist Mary Russell to Oxford, the book is stolen in a sort of shell game, under the nose of the man in charge of preserving this part of Bodley’s collection. Mr. Parsons is a dashing figure with four sons and a Medieval office space decorated by the photograph of an aeroplane mid-barrel roll—piloted by the librarian himself.
Far too nice a fellow to make the victim of a nefarious crime.
Yes, it is true: I steal everything from libraries, including their reputations. Still, in my defense, I must assert that my crimes are to some degree justified, by way of retribution.
After all, libraries in one place or another stole my entire childhood.” -Laurie R. King
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Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, The Bones of Paris, and the upcoming Dreaming Spies.